(Gering, NE, USA)
I remember back when I was growing up being embarrassed by my father, an uneducated farm boy who always seemed to have some folksy, homespun saying to deal with everything life threw at him.
Not enough money to pay the electricity? We have the sun and stars to light us. No car to drive to school? Take the shoe leather express. No meat ? The earth gives us what we need to nourish ourselves, we don't need to kill anything to fill our bellies.
The time was the nineteen-eighties and the place, the San Francisco Bay area. It was all about yuppies, status, and showing material wealth back then. I was a typical teen; a snotty valley girl and I wanted everything I couldn't have, and didn't treasure what I did have.
While our neighbors were hiring people to manicure their grass my dad, with the help of us five kids, would till up our large back yard and plant a garden of tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, and cabbage from seeds. Nobody in the neighborhood had gardens and I was teased and picked on by the other kids. My dad would always tell me that you reap what you sow and someday those kids would regret what they did. It sounded like a line of bull to me, but I just nodded. My dad just didn't get it - or so I thought.
It didn't strike me until years later that even though my family, with it's seven members, was by far the poorest in the neighborhood, the neighbors would come to our door with plastic or paper grocery bags when it was time to harvest the garden.
Some would try to pay and my dad, who worked for minimum wage, always turned down the money. I thought he was crazy at the time, because that money would have bought some nice clothes or paid for the electricity or something. When I pointed that out to him he said that we had plenty and sharing was reward enough. I shrugged and rolled my eyes. I'd have rather had a boom box.
When my father retired he'd set enough back to buy a small, run down tomato farm on the outskirts of Indianapolis. It was so run down we had to hike through weeds up to my waist to reach the tumbledown house. Again I was embarrassed for myself and angry at my father. I offered to help him buy someplace else and he just laughed and said I still hadn't changed and that I needed to see the potential.
At his farewell party I was amazed to see people I hadn't seen in years, people who had lived in the neighborhood when I was just a girl, people who I thought were dead or hadn't thought about in years. My dad greeted them like they had been there every day.
They were all sad to see him go and several people who cried, and as they spoke of what his planting of his garden and sharing the bounty of it meant to them, I realized for the very first time, that when my father was sowing seeds for food, he was also sowing seeds of love and friendship.
I'd like to say I was a changed person after that, but it took me more than a decade to act on that realization. I called my father last spring and asked him to teach me the art of growing a garden and sowing the seeds for the future. My dad, in his typical way, suggested I buy some gloves because my hands were going to get dirty, but in the next breath said he would be on the next bus out. He missed sowing seeds with his daughter.