For some reason I thought about a flower garden my father helped me dig and plant when I was a kid, and I turned it into this little story. A little truth and a little fiction, blended well. BTW, the bit about siblings is totally not the case for mine. They are a hard-working bunch. In honor of fathers everywhere.
“Can I help you, daddy?” the little girl asked shyly.
Her father looked over at her. She stood at the side of the vegetable garden, careful not to step into it without permission. She had dressed in old stained jeans, a paint-covered sweatshirt and a pair of worn out tennis shoes, ready to get dirty. “Aren’t you cold?” he asked her, for the snow had barely melted off the ground and the day sent shivers up his spine.
She shook her head. “I could dig.”
He wondered if her nine-year-old frame could handle a shovel. Gymnastics had certainly made her stronger these past few months. “Sure,” he decided, “let me show you what to do.”
He walked over to where the shovel leaned against an oak tree. “Hold it like this,” he instructed. “Push it deep into the soil and turn it over. When you encounter a plant, pull it out and throw it into this pile.”
He watched as she struggled to control the tool. “Try the right hand on top,” he suggested, and repositioned her hands. After some practice, she managed to hit the spot in front of her. It took her longer to learn to stand on one leg and tap the top of the blade with the other foot, but his oldest had an admirable doggedness that he wished translated to their younger children. When she could do the movements a little, he set her to work, turning a row over for the spring planting. He expected her to grow tired quickly, but she persisted for over an hour. Finally, he sent her inside.
That night, he talked to his wife. “She’s a born gardener, just like me and my father. I could see how much she loves the soil. I want to give her a spot for herself, where she can plant flowers.”
“She could dig a new bed along the south edge of the yard,” her mother offered.
“I will measure something out tomorrow,” he replied, sleepily, already fading from a day spent working in the ground.
Their daughter complained of sore muscles in the morning, so he waited until the next weekend. “Would you like to plant some flowers?” he asked her.
She nodded, standing with her arms folded against the chilly spring wind.
“Your mother wants a new flower bed. This will be yours to dig and plant. Okay? Let me show you what to do,” he took string and stakes out of his pocket and marked off a three by five foot area. “Stay within this area, okay?”
She warmed quickly, digging hard to remove grass and weeds and turn over the earth just like her dad had shown her. Halfway through, she set her shovel down, exhausted. He saw and left his plot to help her, quickly finishing the job. “Let’s go to the store for seeds,” he suggested.
“Now?” she asked, jumping up and down in excitement.
“Yes, after we wash our face and hands.”
She bolted for the house.
At the store, he pointed to the display of flower seeds. “Choose what you want. I think there is room for three kinds.”
She studied the packets carefully and finally chose zinnias, snapdragons, and African daisies.
“Read the packet instructions, and plant them in rows so you know they are not weeds,” her father instructed.
For weeks she raced outside every day to check on her flowers and carefully kept the bed watered. Green finally appeared, just not where she had planted anything. Disappointed, she discarded the tiny weeds. But, a few days later, strong shoots appeared, pushing their seeds out of the ground in neat rows. Soon plants much like the pictures on the packets formed and started budding. It grew hot, and the buds turned into radiant flowers. She picked a bunch and ran inside: “Look, mommy!” he squeaked.
“How beautiful! Put them in a vase on the dining room table, where we can all enjoy them, my little gardener.”