because my father never took us to church, he attended his garden
Writing Truth & Beauty Newsletter, June 2017
My father loved growing peonies. He loved showing them to us when they bloomed in his yard every June. He would pick two - three at most - bring them indoors, and put them in vase for my mother.
I miss my father's peonies every June. So, a year or two ago, I planted some of my own. This week they are in bloom. I picked one to bring inside for my mother and father in their absence.
I wrote this short personal essay (published in my chapbook, Tree of the Apple), about visiting my father in memory care during the gap of time when he longer grew his peonies and I had not yet planted my own.
Driving to memory care all my voices argue - I should bring a treat to lift his spirits, I should hug him and smile, say it’s me, Dad, I should skip it he’s probably napping, he won’t know I’m there, except then how will I solve why he’s not
in his garden when I need to tell him hard or happy news and ask what is his plan for his summer – what seedlings are started and which soft day will he step me to the yard in front to bend my head and lean into the scent of peonies he’s staked under a fair and trusted sky
because my father never took us to church, he attended his garden. Who can say what this means about believing in God, this faith in what grows from a seed in soil he fertilized by fresh manure, where he practiced error and trial, renewal and hope. Above all, how he put his trust in pails. This devotion to watering each cucumber plant or tomato by hand not hose, how he opposed giving weeds any advantage in a decent rectangle - a yellow squash blossom place he tilled for letting him reach us
but, now I am driving to find him, it’s lunchtime and that could mean naptime. He is sitting with his back to the window at the table of four at which three are seated, where a friend to his right is being fed and a friend across from him is finished. My father’s lunch is set before him. On his plate, the small scoop of ground beef, the white hill of potato. The little red carton of milk. The paper cup of vanilla ice cream. The dish of pudding. I am a surprise with a spoon in my hand, and he smiles, cheerful and hungry, hungry as a man at his first
meal, so I pour his carton of milk into a clear plastic cup. Magnificent! he says after sipping. A little cup of artificial ice cream is Out of this world! Processed potato, Amazing!
Can I eat all of this? he asks, marveling at the feast.
Every bite is for you.
Oh, that’s wonderful, he says and he means it. What offering is next – in a paper cup of water, a single pink extravagance
I paid for at a store.
Peony, Copyright Kelly DuMar 2017, Published in Tree of the Apple, Two of Cups Press
All photos copyright Kelly DuMar 2017