|(That's my tree to the left of the house.)|
This Father’s Day memory takes me back to a small village in Georgia. Cotton-mill town. Eighty one years ago—could it really have been that long? Yes, eighth-one years ago I came howling into the world one frosty October morning. Born at home in a tiny four-room house across from the mill. They had been married for years hoping maybe a baby might come. Never did. And then, surprise of surprises my Mother was pregnant.
Finally the baby came. For them, it was almost a holy moment—because they had given up all hope. And yet there in the bed cradled in her arms was the baby. It was a time when proud Papas passed out cigars to friends and strangers. “Got a boy,” he said. “Got a boy.” Outside that little house he marked the occasion by planting a little tree. Just a tiny sprig—yet kneeling in his proudness he hoped the little branch would one day become a tree.
He nursed that seedling as if it was his child. He would wander out in the morning before work, kneel down and look. On the hot parched Georgia days he would take a bucket filled with water and baptize the tiny green sprig.
Miraculously the small thing grew and grew. It was an unlikely spot—beside our house, next to a store—across from the mill. Yet—somehow it flourished. I went back there last year and drove down the street where the mill houses are now crumbling. The mill had burned and only a shell remains. The little house is still there miraculously. Someone painted it green. And to the left side of the little porch stands a tree. It must be say, fifteen or twenty feet tall. It has survived hard winters, tornadoes and hot-hot summers. Mistletoe has attacked its branches—yet it still lives. It has endured the years when so much around the tree has disappeared.
My Father and I had a love-hate relationship. Near-deaf he could not hear me—and I got tired of yelling. We never got along too much. And yet this man who never really had a vacation—never owned a car—only worked and worked and worked. He brought his pitiable pay-check home week after week. He paid our bills and kept the lights on. The little boat called our family had rocky days and yet he stayed. He did what he could.
For a long time his anger and frustrations made me furious. I would pull away and turn my back. I don’t ever remember if I ever really celebrated his birthday or a Father’s Day. When he died I had a hard grief. It lasted for a long time. I kept thinking: I never really knew him.
Several years ago a road-show came to South Carolina. It was a play about mill people. It talked about the tiny pleasures they found after long days in the mill. They laughed and danced and loved their hard lives. And as I sat there watching that story unfold—I saw my parents as I had never seen them before. Young, in love, full of promise and dreams.
Through the years the marriage unraveled and yet they stayed and raised their boys and did what they could. And sitting in that darkened theatre watching the mill story being told—I saw a side of them I had never seen. And I remember wiping away the tears.
Father’s Day is a hard time for many of us. Kids are abandoned or abused or just ignored. There are too-may dead-beat Dads. But despite my own winding father-journey this day I tip my hat and offer a thanks. Once upon a time my Father, on the week of my birth, knelt down and planted a tree—and it stands to this day.
Maybe there is a parable here for many of us. He did what he could. He loved in his own way. And every Father’s Day I remember a tree and a time when somebody celebrated my birth was laughter and great joy. Maybe there is no greater gift than that.
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com