beautiful universe

Every night, when I was a kid, as the eight of us sat around the dinner table, my father said grace. I had no idea what he was saying—the words tumbling over each other as they came out of his mouth—but I was able to memorize the verse simply by mimicking his syllables. 

Other than reciting grace, my dad never said one word about God. Beyond the daily grind of his job, my dad’s focus was on his children and on getting out in the fresh air as much as possible. He praised nature and was a sun worshiper of sorts, occasionally bathing in it, but mostly just soaking up its warm rays as he worked hours outside in the yard.

I helped my dad tend a garden that boasted plentiful, succulent vegetables and fruits: berries, squash, greens, root vegetables, rhubarb, Swiss chard—you name it. He loved being outside and working with the earth, planting seeds, pruning the ample fruit trees, harvesting their yield and fostering rhododendron and camellia buds. He liked bees and taught me not to be afraid of them. He'd spy garter snakes peeking out from crevices in the rock wall and, knowing I liked them, he'd catch them and place them, gracefully writhing, in my small hands. He shared his love of birds with me—which was palpable—though not so much in words but by his pleasure in seeing the abundant robins, quail, hummingbirds and the occasional pheasant. And gazing up at the clouds we stretched our sore backs after hours together in the garden, taking in clean deep breaths then releasing; I felt close to him and to the universe.

My dad lives on in me through my love of gardening, of nature, of our beautiful, expansive, complex universe. But I wish he had stuck around long enough to meet Calvin.

I imagine them together in a dream, lying side by side on a big colorful towel in the middle of a meadow watching the clouds meander by. As butterflies dart and bounce amidst sunlit drifts of bees and pollen, my dad shows Calvin how to make a blade of grass sing between his thumbs. Grandpa and Grandson, two peas in a pod, giggling with delight.

On this father's day, I think, if only it could be true.

Originally published 11.28.10.

me and my dad, circa 1965

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