The following is my Father’s Day Tribute to my Father who passed away on June 11, 2013
Patch of Clovers
The five o’ clock traffic was heavier than usual. I had already begun to exhale as I made my way slowly down the interstate. I didn’t even seem to mind the slower traffic; even this gave me a chance to rest my mind. Josh, my second oldest, pressed his head up against the window as if he were going to be in prison for the next few days. But for me, it was going to be a little slice of heaven. I could already envision what it would be like to sit in the old rocker on my Dad’s front porch and rock away the stress and strain of the past few months. My work load had doubled and from taking the boys to football practice, games and everything else, my body was completely exhausted.
While some people are popping valium, all I need is a dose of my Dad’s front porch and a cup of his famous coffee. Somehow, in my mind, that would make everything that I have had to endure for the past three months disappear. I had told Dad that I’d try to get away early, but who was I kidding? It was four o’ clock before I’d ever left the office. Naturally, I would have something thrown on my desk at the last minute or have to answer a chronic, last- minute phone call. I was caught in traffic, the kids had not finished packing and one of them, my youngest, was running a low grade fever. I felt his forehead, gave him some Tylenol and threw everything they hadn’t packed in the trunk of the car.
“We’re going!” I said slamming the driver side door. “I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for weeks and I’m not going to let any of you ruin it for me.”
“But Mom, how will my girlfriend know how to reach me?” Trey, my eldest son asked.
“You’ll survive son. You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“What?” he asked peering at me in the rearview mirror.
“Never mind, just know that a few days away from your girlfriend will not hurt your relationship.” It was not my intention to console him. How long had he been dating this one now? Thirteen months, 6 days, 2 hours and 15 minutes. He’d never missed a beat in reminding me, nor in telling me how much he loves her. I wasn’t even allowed to have a boyfriend at fourteen. ‘They start early today,’ I thought, ‘too early.’ If they only knew, there ain’t that much love in the world! At least not for me; it seemed that I had given up hope.
“Seatbelts!” I bellowed just as we pulled out of the driveway. No, I wasn’t about to allow their foul moods to affect my weekend. Somehow everything would be better the moment I sat in one of the rockers on my Dad’s front porch.
“Mom, can I play a game on your cell phone?” asked Josh, reluctantly.
“Sure, but I forgot to put it on charge and the low battery light is on,” I muttered as we pulled onto the interstate. Josh relinquished and leaned back in his seat and pressed his face against the window.
It would only be an hour and half now. Thirty minutes had already passed and I had heard almost every complaint in the book.
“What good is a cell phone where we’re going anyway? You can’t even get a signal way back in the woods where Grandpa lives. It’s like being in the dark ages. His home phone only carries a 30 mile radius and he doesn’t even have cable,” Trey said as I watched his disgust from the rear view mirror.
“Some people seem to see that as a simpler way of life,” I added. I could tell that he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to connect with his friends either for the weekend. Personally, I was relieved that I’d get a break from the constant ringing of the phones. I just wanted to put my feet up, lean back and bask in the warmth of the sun or sit out on the porch and watch the stars at night. Just the thought of it was enough to quiet my spirit. How had I allowed myself to get here? My divorce had been final now for over four years. I wasn’t lonely, I was just tired. When my ex-husband and I started having children, we had not planned to have me do all of the work raising them by myself.
“Are you feeling better, Joey?” I glanced at my baby for a moment in the rear view mirror.
“Yes, Mama,” he answered. My baby was not a baby anymore. Where had all of the time gone? It seemed like yesterday and I was pushing him in his stroller. He was a big baby, but you’d never know it by looking at him. I was floored when the nurse said, “You have a 10 pound 3 ounce baby boy!” ‘Oh, my God,’ I thought, ‘I’ve just given birth to a college student.’
I was glad he was feeling better, but I began to feel guilty about leaving so quickly after checking his temperature. But why did everything always have to be about them and their needs? Soon we’d be at my Dad’s. I’d decide then to do something different if I needed to.
“Are we there yet?” Josh asked without moving his face from the window. I knew I was going to hear that sooner or later and as I had planned, I ignored it.
I loved going to the country. It was like something out of a Dickens’ novel, something so picturesque and surreal. Actually, it was like going back in time. Dad still canned fruit and vegetables and he even had a few farm animals too. It’s funny how when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now I cherish the moments when I can return. The boys soon fell asleep and I savored the peace and quiet for the rest of the drive.
It was dark when we finally arrived and got settled in the old house. Dad was eager to see us and greeted us at the stoop. You could tell that he had been waiting, but he would never admit it. My room was just as I had left it years ago, down to the very same wall paper. What was I thinking then? I loved pick and brown and white polka dots. It was a phase I guess and I was reminded of it each time I returned. Funny, it still gave me a happy feeling inside.
On the mantel were all of my trophies and numerous framed certificates hung on the wall over the fireplace. Even though my Dad never said he was proud of my accomplishments, I had often heard others say that he was always bragging on his daughter, the professor. This would always make me smile and shed a few tears.
The first day that we were there seemed to go by so quickly. The boys spent most of their time in the backyard playing basketball. I was glad that my dad had set this up for them because it kept them busy and just far enough away to give me the space I needed. Dad and I spent most of the time in the kitchen fixing some of my favorite meals. He had caught some fresh fish and wanted me to try it. I loved fried catfish and homemade French fried potatoes.
By the end of the day, he took me on yet another one of his tours of the garden and grounds. He had planted plum, peach and even fig trees in the yard that all seemed to stand at attention as we walked by. His garden was dressed with English peas, Irish potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. I was amazed at how the tomatoes were planted and strung across what seemed to be a perfect rectangle graced with precision to the smallest detail.
On the fence row was a blackberry vine that my Dad said was, “tamed.” For a moment, I stood staring at his glorious works of art on his dirt-filled canvas. It was amazing how much I could see the sweat, labor and love that actually went into the creation of his topiary masterpiece. This was not my first tour, but something about it always made it fresh and new. Perhaps it was how Dad pointed out each plant or tree like a mother who had given birth to each one or in how he acted as though I didn’t know what they were. Maybe it was how he took such pride in having someone to admire his handiwork. That was the easy part. I knew that I stood in the presence of a master gardener and it was not difficult for me to nod approvingly, look amazed, or even sigh at the extraordinary beauty that surrounded me. After the tour, I felt a bit tuckered out and couldn’t wait for the rockers.
I leaned back in the old chair and took another deep breath. The roses were extra sweet as I closed my eyes and painted a mental picture for later. It was all just as I remembered it, the roses climbed up the trellis and up the side of the house like the members of a marching band and tapered off at the roof stringing down the sides. There were trees as for as you could see and hummingbirds, fluttering away at the stoop. The old rocker made a screeching noise when you rocked, but that didn’t bother me at all. I couldn’t pay for the way I felt in any psychologist’s office. I sat on the screened- in porch and enjoyed a cup of Dad’s famous coffee. I had learned years ago that it wasn’t the coffee that made it so special because I had the same brand at home. It was the hospitality. Dad took his time and prepared and served the coffee. This always made me feel extra special because I knew that he prepared it just for me.
Dad sat in the twin rocker on the other side of the porch. We exchanged very few words at that time. It was as if he knew what I was thinking. I wondered if he knew what this was doing for me. We just sat and rocked in an almost synchronized manner. He and My Mom used to sit like this for hours. Sometimes he’d even fall asleep in the old rocker and now I understood why.
I don’t remember my Dad as the person that I see today. When I was younger, he seemed cold and distant. Back then, he was always working and seldom played or even talked to us. He was a strong disciplinarian and quite frankly, we were all afraid of him. Since my Mom died over 12 years ago, I have learned to cherish these precious moments with my Dad. I now know that my siblings and I couldn’t possibly understand what it was like then to have to provide for a family. He worked very hard to provide for us and since I have become the main bread winner, I understand how you sacrifice and how difficult it is to juggle parenting and provision. Though the years have been relatively good to him, he moves around a little slower, but he has never lost his quaint since of humor. For now, he didn’t have to say a word. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to sit and rock. This was my rock and roll concert.
It was day two and so refreshing to still breath in the nice country air and take the time to exhale too. Dad could not know how important this was to me. Today, my Dad is my friend and whether he knows it or not, he has always been my hero. After all, whose kitchen table did I cry on when my marriage was falling apart? I remember crying uncontrollably. He consoled me by telling me that my life was not over and reassured me that I could make it. That was five years ago and he was right.
The sun had began to make it’s decent behind the trees. Soon there wouldn’t be much daylight left and I’d be making the trip back home.
By this time, the boys, who had been playing in the back yard, were standing over me and whining about when we would be going home. “Soon,” I said. I realized that they did not quite see the beauty of our visit and quite possibly could not wait to get back to the video games and TV back at home. Sadly, I was able to see a bit of myself in them when I was their ages. I wanted to break out of the country too, and now it means everything to me to get back to it, even if it meant just a little bit at a time.
“What are these flowers?” I asked my Dad, ignoring the boys as I stepped off of the porch and pointed to a lovely grouping of purple flowers that had escaped the earlier tour. I had already seen his garden of azaleas, four-o clocks, morning glories, petunias and what seemed to be a sea of ivy.
“Oh,” my Dad chuckled, “those are voluntaries.”
“Voluntaries?” I repeated.
“Yes,” he said with a suspicious grin. “They just popped up on their own.” I joined him in that smile.
“Come here, boys,” he called to my three sons urging them to take leave of the porch and stop their whining for just a single moment in time. “I want to show you something. Do you like four-leaf clovers?” he asked.
“Yes, sir!” my youngest responded excitedly as he jumped from the porch to the ground.
“My friend says that he found a four leaf clover in his yard,” my middle son added following him with the same precision.
“Well, how would you like to see a patch of four leaf clovers?”
“Yea!” they all said in unison as my Dad took us to a small spot of greenery bedded between the rose bushes and cape jasmines on the left side of the house.
‘A patch of four-leaf clovers?’ I thought. Surely my Dad was exaggerating. Could such a thing exist? I think I had read somewhere that the Irish thought of them as being a sign of good fortune, but only one out of 10,000 clovers would have four leaves.
“Look right here,” he said pointing into the very center of the patch. “Look closely, you’ll find one.” By now, the boys were on their hands and knees fingering through the clovers as if to find buried treasure. What manner of experience was this? And yet, the boys’ faces were filled with wonder and anticipation. Trey seemed to be trying to find one even harder than his younger brothers.
“I found one!” my youngest son said gently clutching the leaves as though they were made of glass. “So you did,” my Dad said, “So you did. Now go on,” he coaxed the others. Could there be more than one there?
“I found one!” my middle son screamed. Now, even I was starting to believe something truly wonderful was happening. I leaned over and began to help in the search and when my oldest son found his four-leaf clover, I joined in to search for one of my own. I’d seldom if ever actually found a four-leaf clover and especially not after someone else had. My Dad never lost faith. “You’ll find one too,” he assured me. I searched among the tender leaves trying desperately now to believe that it was possible. He’d been right so far. Could he be right now? Would I find one too? It was starting to get late and we were quickly losing sunlight over the old house. What was I doing? I looked up at my Dad and I could see his expression. He had not given up hope. My heart shrank inside me. Had I given up hope for better things to come in my own life? My youngest son found yet another and my faith was heightened. I was nervous as I spread the leaves of the clover that I held between my fingers. One, two, three, four! It had four leaves!
“Oh, my God! I’ve got one!” I shouted in utter amazement and sheer delight. You’d think I’d found a shiny new diamond. Perhaps I’d found something even better. My Dad nodded.
It had been a wonderful visit. The boys even played a wicked game of dominoes with my Dad on the front porch before we left. They even admitted that they had had fun and more than that, they learned that fun was not something relegated to a TV or computer screen. Past the fact that I had a time of relaxing that money could not buy; I had learned a lesson in faith that I would not soon forget: That all things are possible with God and if you only believe you might be surprised at what he can do in your life. A life without hope is a life without faith.
Perhaps, I too, will be able to find what I am looking for. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places. More importantly, if you look hard enough, you can see God’s hand in everything you do. My Dad seemed to know this all along.