Good help is hard to find

I had a very good Mothers Day. Highlights include not having to go out to a fancy brunch or drive all the way to Richmond. I simply called Mom to tell her I had peonies in my back yard for her and offered to buy her things at CostCo while I was out. The Puddin' went to Fight Club over in Newport News somewhere and I opted to do a giant pile of laundry and go to the grocery store. I went to three grocery stores while the Puddin' was away and I confess to walking up and down every aisle in Farm Fresh at a relatively leisurely pace. It was blissful.

I got back in time for the rain to stop and for Dad to show up with his gardening tools. My parents' yard, while very large, has gotten quite shady over the years with all the huge trees. Consequently, it's hard to find a place for Dad to grow his tomatoes. So I have worked out a deal with my parents to let them share crop a section of my yard in exchange for some tomatoes. As my father said in his e-mail asking permission, "have roto-tiller, will travel."

I am one of the world's worst gardeners, mostly from lack of time, experience or knowledge about how to make plants go. I've toyed with the idea of starting a garden or even an herb box, but it never pans out. The rules of my gardening method are heavily based on neglect. So it's nice to look out into my yard and see a plot started and watch it grow and live vicariously through my father's labors.

Dad's gardening is more than just putting plants in the soil and watering them. He had to cut back a mulberry bush that was overtaking my fence (and would have shaded some of his tomatoes). He also had to build a low fence to keep Sarah from bedding down in the freshly tilled soil while still being short enough to step over (which involved trimming the fence down to the right height). Then there were the decisions on how many plants to put in the ground and how close together to plant them. The entire time, he lamented that he should have planted them earlier and they would have grown better.

Part of me felt bad for not going out and helping Dad plant. I kept forgetting that this was his gardening project and I'm just providing soil and water. I did go out a few times to check on him and stayed as he finished up his planting. Then I remembered what it takes to be a helper for my father. It works best if you just listen for a while. He has interesting things to talk about and I always learn something new, even if it's not about gardening. The bed was mostly done, but we were racing the next thunderstorm coming along as well as nightfall. There was more lamenting about exactly how much fertilizer to mix in and how deep to plant them and if he had a powered post-hole digger, he could do all kinds of things. I started to help plant but realized that was just futile. He nudged the plants around inches at a time and fiddled with the dirt around the stalks.

As Dad made his way down the row, he had starter pots left lying around from the plants he'd transferred into the ground. I picked them up and stacked them loosely together (so they wouldn't cement together with the potting soil). I filled the top one with bits of trash to walk over to the trash can once we were done. Dad was so engrossed in what he's doing he absently mentioned he wanted to save those pots and he'd throw out the trash. Roger that, Dad, we're on the same page. He then took the three pots that I had stacked, pulled them apart and placed the three remaining full pots inside them. So instead of three full pots and a stack of three empty pots, he had three full pots each with an empty one under it.

It can be frustrating to help Dad because a lot of times I feel like whatever I'm doing is a waste since he's going to do his own thing anyways. But those moments are usually outnumbered by the times he moves down the planting row and I move the potting soil container closer to him as he goes without him having to ask. I understand that at a point the effort of asking for something so simple or explaining every little detail becomes more trouble than just getting it yourself. If you have a good helper who can read minds, then your project can be greatly improved by the extra help. It's just exhausting to be that helper, sometimes.

I had a "Dad moment" today when I got all annoyed at Rich for not putting hooks in the ceiling where I wanted them. He put them eight feet apart but they ideally needed to be 8'4" apart to be exactly lined up. The chains holding up the screen make up the difference, but it's not exactly at the ceiling where I wanted it and we'd have to make another two holes in the ceiling two inches to the outside of the current hooks to raise the entire screen approximately three inches higher when it is already more than two feet longer than we need. I had to remind myself that no one else will notice or care about the way it's hung. But I could feel the compulsiveness rising up in my throat and I couldn't even look at the screen without being annoyed.

While my father and I were out in the yard, I asked him if they still made the low wheelbarrow he was using for potting soil (only about a foot off the ground, wide and shallow). He said he hasn't seen them in years and Mom had bought theirs years ago. Back when she had bought them he'd criticized it - and Mom for spending the money on them - because he didn't appreciate how much more useful they were. As we were packing up the van to beat the rain, he rolled his little cart into the side door of the van and flipped it inside with one hand. He smiled at me and said, "a full-sized wheelbarrow wouldn't have fit." I smiled back and completely understood.