My Father Was

My father was an honest, patient, kind, good humored and very hard working man. Most of my father’s life revolved around the orchard, our home and his faith.

He had a strong green thumb and his labor on the farm was a labor of love. Work on the farm wasn’t always loved by his kids, at least not by me. However there is at least one task I remember fondly. Even now when I smell the dried fallen leaves and the crisp clean air of fall it reminds me cutting wood with my dad. The way I remember it, late autumn Saturday mornings mom would cook us a big breakfast of eggs and hot cakes, after breakfast we would head to the wood pile, dad driving the tractor and a couple of us sons following in the truck. The power take off of the tractor was connected by a giant belt to a huge bare circular saw blade about 4 feet across. That tractor powered saw could cut a branch many inches thick in seconds, it was not OSHA approved. Dad did the cutting, one son handed him branches, dad cut them in to fireplace size lengths, and the other sun tossed them in to the truck. Once the truck was full we would return home, stack the wood for the winter and after just a couple of hours the job would be done. Maybe that’s why I remember it fondly, in was over relatively quick.

Winter time the chores were much less pleasant. After clerking all day at Hill Air Force base my dad would return home, change cloths and head out in to the cold and sometimes the snow to prune the orchard. In the dead of winter it would get dark to early to prune so he would spend evenings in his shop going through each of the 1000s of peach picking boxes, mending the broken ones.

Spring time he would drag one of two of us sons to help him collect what he had pruned off in the winter. The larger trimmings would were stacked for some future fall. Then dad would use the tractor to rake the remaining trimmings into piles to be burned. That chore wasn’t so bad either, because it ended in a huge fire so hot the coals could be used to melt lead the next day.

One year dad acquired a cow pasture next to the peach orchard. We spent that spring planting cherry trees in nice straight rows. We called that section the Young Orchard which, at first, made sense. The first couple of years the Young Orchard was so short we flew kites among the trees. Eventually, with dad’s care and nurture, the Young Orchard grew tall, produced lots of fruit and contributed its own limbs to the piles of wood to be cut in the fall. The name Young Orchard stuck even when it wasn’t so young any more.

Summer time included the harvest so my dad worked even harder. We lived in a desert so irrigating, or as we called it “moving sprinklers” was a critical task. The sprinklers were to be moved every 12 hours so dad would get up, move the sprinklers at 6am, have breakfast, go to work, come home, change, and move them again at 6pm, have dinner and then go back in to the orchard until dark.

My dad worked hard at horticulture and he took a quiet and well deserved pride in the fruit he produced. But he grew more than just fruit, beyond the orchard dad and mom always had a productive garden. I know that sounds good now but as a kid I saw it as more work. Along with the vegetables and fruit they grew flowers, peach and cherry customers would often stop to admire our rose garden. He planted some flowers in out of way places. The descendents of tulips, daffodils and irises he planted still bloom on the steep hillside and next to aging piles of fire wood. I can only guess about what motivated him to plant flowers there, certainly to make those places more pleasant, but I think also he just enjoyed seeing things grow.

By the time the harvest was finished, the last peach was picked, the orchards had been cleaned up and dad had plowed the remains of garden back into the soil it would be fall when the air is crisp clean and smells of fallen leaves.

There is an old Native American saying that goes something like this:

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves?
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth.

You shall ask
What reason is there for winter?
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves.

You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green?
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life.

You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that leaves will die.

My father was an honest, patient, kind, good humored and very hard working man. I will miss him.


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