My parents had two vegetable gardens in the backyard when I was growing up. We planted and weeded as a family. I remember plucking potato bugs. Every time I thought I had removed them all, another one would appear. It was a tedious exercise. The same was true for the weeds that persistently popped up among the beans and tomatoes. Picking beans was more gratifying. I discovered that I preferred to eat them raw rather than collect them in the container.
The garden was a labor of love for my parents, and they grew and harvested enough to fill a fruit cellar that fed us through the winter. My mom grew up on a farm. My dad did not, but he loved gardening and learned as much as he could. The annual routine of clearing, planting, harvesting and putting the garden to bed fit him. It was a routine that yielded food, and he did it with his family.
My father is a man of routines. He believes in establishing habits. When I was struggling in college, he wrote me a letter. He wrote that in order to overcome challenges, you need to develop consistency. Find what you do well and keep doing it. Establish habits that make life satisfying. Complete the task in front of you, then move on to the next one. He went on to say that our habits are what define us.
It went beyond how I tackled schoolwork. It was also about how you interacted with those around you. How you treated everyone and how you responded to adversity. If you are habitually grumpy, people will remember you that way. If you always order the same thing, people will remember you as the guy who always ordered the same thing. If you treat everyone the same way, people will remember you as someone who cared about others. When you fall down, get up and try again, and again and again. You will be remembered for not giving up.
My parents do not have two large vegetable gardens anymore. They still have some blueberry bushes, rhubarb, asparagus and some other fruits and vegetables. They have taken their growing talents and now apply them mostly to a perennial garden around the house. Weeds are still pulled, sod is transplanted, stones are arranged as steps between the flowers. It is a daily routine that starts after breakfast and after the paper is read. They plant new things and watch them grow. There is an azalea bush outside their bedroom window. It is 48 years old. There are two blueberry bushes that were planted just three days ago. These are all labors of love, and together they help things grow.
We all have our gardens, the seeds we plant and nourish. We all have hopes that the seeds we plant will grow and yield a harvest. I’m rambling on about all of this because Sunday is Father’s Day, and I recognize that some (not all) of my Dad’s habits have become mine. I’m grateful for that.