I had bought the three hardbound books three decades ago, and they sit still unread on my bookshelf. But Dad, bored with his own library, picked up volume one and thoroughly enjoyed following Herriott on his rounds in rural Yorkshire. As much as Herriott writes about animals, his true subjects are the animal owners, with their eccentricities and superstitions and their pure humanity. Dad read All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and All Things Bright and Beautiful, then reread All Creatures, reading for hours at a time, chuckling quietly to himself, telling Mom and me stories of fearsome pigs and troublesome calf deliveries, and I remembered how much our family enjoyed watching the original BBC production. In the spirit of the misty moors, I purchased the complete seven years of All Creatures on DVD for Mom and Dad to enjoy—an alternative to grisly crime shows—90 episodes over 12 years. And then the old VHS/DVD player broke, swallowing a disk whole, so I brought home a new Phillips DVD/BR player from Wal-Mart. The closed captions worked only on the first episode, and now Mom and Dad cannot follow the stories for Siegfried’s incomprehensible mumbling and shouting. But Dad knows all the stories from his reading. As she watches, Mom alternatively works her latest needlepoint or hunts for words in the puzzle book Jeanette gave her for Christmas. I found the puzzle book in the recycle bin, all 108 puzzles completed, all the words found. Who knew she would enjoy them so much? Jeanette sent new a new book with even more word search puzzles. On the afternoon Mom went to the dentist, she did neither needlepoint nor word searches, relaxing into her recliner, waiting for her face to come back to life after having a cavity filled and an old broken crown drilled out. Her poor upper lip just would not work at all for three hours, and for a hundredth of a second flashed in my mind the specter of the dentist pulling all her upper teeth. He had not of course. Dad opened the back door and pulled his wheelchair close, watching me finish the last of the arctic willow pruning. The bushes now look relatively round, and proportionate to their surroundings, with all the dead wood cut out, and another garbage can filled to the lid. “I wish I could help you,” Dad called. I stopped my work and approached with the consolation that as soon as the weather warmed a bit, and the grass dried out some, he could venture outside in his power wheelchair and do just about whatever yard job he wanted, including weeding with a hoe, trimming the bushes, edging the lawn, and general inspection. He could even ride his chair into the garage to transfer to his riding mower and cut the grass. He nodded and smiled and offered a simple “Yes” and that he looked forward to that. Saturday’s work done, and our Coq au Vin dinner pleasurably consumed, and the kitchen cleaned and washed and put away, I sat down with the craft kits I had purchased and assembled, painted, and clothed four Valentine’s Day gnomes, little people that sit cutely on the hearth spelling the word “LOVE.”
Tag Archives: Yardwork
Courage at Twilight: Squishy
Another Saturday morning. Time for the critical yardwork, the kind one does not do every week, but does as-needed to manicure the grounds. As clouds heavy on the mountain darkened, I shaped the bushes, clipped their low runners, collected hundreds of twigs the arborist left behind in the bushes, and trimmed the dead branches out of the dwarf pines—we thought the pines were dying, but the dead belonged to just one spreading branch. Rain began to fall, pleasant, a summer shower. How nice, I sighed after a week of high-90s temperatures. Though I had finished the most important chores, I removed my hat and found other chores: I wanted to stay in the cool wet grayness. If I were to lie down on the grass, every passerby would stop to see if I were dead, so I reclined behind the brick wall, on bark chips, and would have been under the pear canopy but for the aggressive arborist, and now looked up into a uniform gray blur. I became aware of the raindrops gently tapping every inch of my body. I giggled to myself as raindrops tickled my upper lip, where I once had a mustache, and, in the decades that followed, every Roger that saw the old Roger pictures thought the mustachioed Roger look ridiculous. And I chuckled at how my closed eyelids blinked involuntarily with every drop that found them. Receiving the delicate moist massage, I felt my tension melt away. A vague worry came to me about what Mom would think if she saw me lying on the ground in the rain—she would think I was dead, and might call 911. I entered the house dirty but cheerful and relaxed, and called out a casual “Hi Mom!” She, indeed, had seen me lying motionless on the ground in the rain, and had wondered if I were dead or hurt or sick, and had resolved to brave the rain to check on me after just a few minutes more had passed. “We need milk, and I need poster board for my weekly schedule,” she mentioned. And I needed curry powder and cream, for French cooking. At Smith’s, I rode the electric cart from the store entrance to Dad, who waited at the car, and I wondered what people might think seeing me ride when no impediment to walking was visible, and I contemplated the nature of unjust judgment. Dad called out in the produce department, “Rog, do you think we need some grapefruit?” How endearing for my father to begin every pronouncement with my name, until at the 117th daily instance I slip into serious irritation. My answer was to grab a bag and move toward the grapefruit. “Don’t get any squishy ones,” he admonished. In a fraction of a second I thought, In the year I have lived with you I have never brought home a squishy grapefruit, in fact in my whole life I have never brought home a squishy grapefruit, and do grapefruit even get squishy? I did not roll my eyes or glare of quip, I simply handed him a grapefruit, then two more. “This one’s good.” “Okay.” “That one will do.” For dinner I fried turkey patties, and mashed steamed parsnips, a most aromatic tuber, mixing them with a tablespoon of butter, a quarter cup of cream, a sprinkle of salt, and a healthy pinch of nutmeg.
Courage at Twilight: Stanley Steamer
The FedEx driver jumped from his parked truck and ran into our front yard. I had checked on Dad twenty minutes earlier as he puttered around the yard with a weeding tool doubling as a cane in one hand, and a folded camp chair serving both as cane and emergency rest station in the other. I bolted from my home office and found Dad sitting in his chair, in the park strip, calmly watching the busy Pepperwood traffic go by. “The driver helped me get to my chair,” he commented, telling me how he had again pushed past the limits of his strength and found himself hugging the sweetgum tree, too weak to stand, too weak to make it to his chair fifteen feet away, trembling violently. “I don’t know my limits until I have passed them!” Dad explained. The FedEx driver had walked him to his chair, where he now sat comfortable and calm, as if no crisis had occurred. I was not there when he needed me—and I cannot always be there when he needs me—but someone else was, and that is sufficient. No matter his state of exhaustion, Dad manages to ride the mower. “I’m just sitting,” he insists stubbornly, and I do not argue. With fertilizer applied, the sprinklers fixed and adjusted, and warm spring days, the grass is thick and green and growing fast. Cooking that evening, wearing my apron, I took a break to sit with Mom and watch the sunset. An enormous pile of cut grass in the front yard caught my attention. Dad had found the strength to dump it and mow on, but was too weak to bag it. I asked Mom when the sprinklers would come on. “Now,” she said. That pile of grass would be infinitely messier to pick up soaked with water, so I jumped out of my chair and grabbed a can and tools, running without shoes onto the lawn. I scooped up the grass with a snow shovel and filled the can, too heavy to lift. Dad had joined us while I scooped, and called out, “Just drag the can.” I imagine I was quite a sight, still in my dress shirt and tie, wearing a kitchen apron, sporting brightly striped socks, frantically scooping grass into a can with an orange snow shovel. Sprinkler heads popped up and sprayed me just as I reached the driveway, dragging the heavy can. My cooking called me back into the kitchen. Stanley Steamer had come earlier in the day to shampoo all the carpets, which were still wet, so I wiped my socks clean of grass and dust to not soil the newly-cleaned carpets. Dad told us after dinner that he could not find one of his hearing aids. In the dark the next morning, I slid his recliner from the kitchen back into its customary spot on the now-dry carpet, and searched the cracks of his recliners. I found the lost hearing aid on the kitchen table, and left the pair in a glass cup for him to find when he wandered down for breakfast. Despite another day’s mishaps and adventures, all was well as I drove off to work.
A pair of Mallard ducks dozing happily on the front lawn, waiting for the sprinklers to come on.
Courage at Twilight: Remember When?
“Remember when you spread the fertilizer on top of new snow and the whole yard turned yellow?” Dad asked me, chuckling. Yes, I remembered. Pushing the spreader through six inches of heavy wet snow took all my strength. Dad had commented then that “It looks like a whole herd of deer peed in my yard!” Yes, it did. Now it was early March, and more snow was coming, and Dad wanted the lawn fertilized before the snow fell, and Mom asked if I could do it since Dad could not. The day before, Dad had started up his riding mower, dropped the blade to the lowest setting, and set off around the yard sucking up pine needles and the thatch of dead grass. “No problem,” I said, anxious to get back to my rising bread dough. “It will only take me 15 minutes.” Pouring the bag of yellow fertilizer into the drop spreader, dozens of hard chunks fell out, too hard to crumble with my fingers. An hour later I was still wrestling with the smaller chunks that clogged the drop holes. I repeatedly jolted the spreader to clear the apertures, spreading fertilizer in uneven spurts. I delivered a frustrating report to Dad, and found him pounding fertilizer stones with a rubber mallet, reminding me of an older prisoner tasked for years with breaking rocks. But these yellow rocks would not break. “I think we should take this bag-full of hard chunks back to the store and ask for a new bag,” I suggested. But he did not want the fight, and I remembered that it is his privilege to choose his battles, not mine. So, I let the matter go, spread the fertilizer that would spread, dropped the bag of chunks in the garbage, and stomped into the kitchen, where I found the ciabatta dough fermenting nicely. And I began to look forward to our dinner of homemade gorgonzola, ham, and tomato-cream pizza.
Courage at Twilight: Raking Fall Leaves
The best leaf rakers Mom and Dad had for our New Jersey yard were us children—six of us. (Mom and Dad helped, of course.) With half an acre to rake, we got after it, making huge piles of walnut, willow, oak, sumac, and maple leaves to jump and roll around in, before we piled them in the garden for compost. These days, Dad does not bother with rakes, except to pull leaves out of the bushes and tight corners. Instead, he mounts his riding mower and sucks up the maple and sweetgum and beautiful red pear leaves into the two rear-mounted canvas bags. This technique saves Dad from the impossibly fatiguing task of raking, and gives him the pleasure of riding his mower long into the cold season, when the grass has stopped growing. With no vegetable garden to nourish, the bagged leaves find their way to the landfill.