Published on August 30th, 2021 | by Randy Weeks2
The View From The Balcony: “Lessons on Grief from Tomatoes and Garden Hoses”
My father was a prolific and legendary gardener in my hometown of Madison, Mississippi—back when you had to tell people where Madison was. He was born and reared in Bellfontaine, Mississippi, a suburb of Eupora in Webster County. As I mentioned in a recent column, for a time he was a County Agent, assisting the agricultural and farming communities in Hinds and Madison counties. In Daddy’s later years he was physically unable to plant a full garden, but he found ways to grow a few vegetables in a couple of flower beds around the house.
Daddy had some gardening rituals, the most revered of which was planting his Better Boy tomatoes on Good Friday. In my memory the only exceptions to that rule were when there was a late freeze or a huge thunderstorm that would have flooded the tomato plants away.
I didn’t like tomatoes when I was growing up. They were fine cooked in things like Mama’s vegetable soup or spaghetti sauce, but you’d never catch me eating a tomato just for the sake of eating a tomato. That and my disdain for quite a few other vegetables served as the foundation for my Daddy’s occasional assertion: “You must not be a Weeks since you don’t like tomatoes.” Eventually I was brave enough to smart off, “Nope. Must not be,” as I chomped down on a massive BLT sans T.
On Good Friday 1995, despite being in poor health and having an ashen coloring to his face, Daddy did his thing. On the following Easter Sunday night Daddy went to bed and breathed his last. I can assure you the irony was not lost on any of his family.
Throughout the season Mama and I tended Daddy’s tomatoes. They bloomed, then bore what was for us a holy fruit. I cried when I picked the first ripe tomatoes. Mama fixed lunch, including slices of the first of Daddy’s last tomatoes. We sat down to lunch and, through tears and laughter, gave copious thanks and ate the sacred meal. A grilled filet mignon could not have tasted better.
Shortly after that I noticed a garden hose that Daddy had stretched along from the side of the house to the apex of his work shed, then on to his old dog yard that had become his fish and dove cleaning station when he had to give up quail hunting and let his dogs go. The hose had become such a part of the landscape that we really didn’t see it, but on this day I did.
“Mama,” I said, “do you want me to take that water hose down?”
Mama gave a huge sigh of relief and said, “Would you PLEASE?!” She always hated that thing.
Having grown up poor through the Great Depression, both Mama and Daddy did a bit of hoarding. They would also do all they could to fix something that got broken, even when it would have been easier to buy a new whatever. Daddy had done that with the garden hose.
While I was winding up the hose, my hands came in contact with a spot where a leak had been. Daddy had cut the leaky inches out and put in a connector so he could keep using the hose. He could have bought hundreds of new hoses, but he’d rather fix them.
As I gripped the hose a bolt of spiritual lightning shot through me and in that instant I knew my Daddy like I had never known him before. I stood in the back yard holding that wound up garden hose and I wept. Grief is like that. It will catch you not looking and jump out at you from behind a door or, in this case, a water hose.
I like tomatoes nowfor the most part. I prefer them cooked, but I will eat them raw on a BLT or a salad. Maybe Daddy would now claim me as a true Weeks. Most likely he’d find another reason to disown me. I do have longer hair, a beard, and a few tattoos. But that’s okay. I know who I am. And in 1995, thanks to Daddy’s tomatoes and water hoses, I know more about who he was, too.
…and that’s the view from The Balcony.
Randy Weeks is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Shamanic Life Coach, an ordained minister, a singer-songwriter, and a few other things we won’t mention here. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.