This I Believe
“Remember to weed your row before you play.” As children living in the country with a half acre garden behind our house, Dad gave us kids that one summertime rule. Before we left the yard to visit the pond or to explore the barn for new kittens, we had to weed a row of vegetables in the huge garden out back. Although not our favorite activity, for it involved bending over for a half hour or so under the morning sun, we soon learned to recognize feathery carrot tops, twisting pea plants, and –nobody’s favorite—red-veined beet leaves. After our labor we savored the vegetables when they came in and were served at sit-down dinners. My favorite treat then and now was a tomato, eaten like an apple, while still warm from the sun, doused with a salt and pepper combination kept in a single shaker for just that purpose.
The harder garden work fell to my dad, who changed from white collar into gray as soon as he pulled into the driveway from work, tilling until dark the corn rows and potato mounds with a hand plow which crumbled the earth and exposed earthworms wriggling for cover. As children, we learned this natural order, that there were adults to handle the harder things in life and children to do our own smaller tasks. If I ran the dust mop and hung out the wash, then Mom had time to bake that cherry pie or time to sit and read to us before bedtime.
Growing up, I applied the wisdom of weeding my row to my own life. If I finished my homework as soon as I arrived home from school, I could pull out Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books or even read them under the covers with a flashlight far into the night if I dared. On the other hand, if I put off my math exercises or report writing until the last minute, I lived in dread of the consequences to come. My seventh grade teacher Mrs. Walker took up homework one student at a time, walking up and down the rows of wooden desks anchored on runners, using teacher sarcasm to humiliate the unprepared.
I have carried this work ethic into my adult life. As I raised my own children, my parenting included admonitions to put duty before pleasure. My girls were raised to pick up their own rooms before playing on Saturday mornings and to take their dirty clothes and towels to the basement or risk empty bureau drawers where clean socks and underwear should be stacked. Gradually, however, the girls learned to shut their bedroom doors on Saturdays, yet managed to keep in clean clothes through their high school careers. Their weeding took a form which worked for them but which was different from what I expected to see.
Today, some two years after my father’s death, and as I tiptoe toward my sixties, I still feel his morning reminder as I make my bed, run a load of wash, and pick up the house before leaving for work. More recently I have started weeding before sunrise by writing for a half hour, nurturing the fresh, essays which grow like summer tomatoes from my morning pages.
Pass the salt shaker, Dad.
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