My father loved the back patio we have in Redondo Beach. Whenever he would visit, the first thing he would do was to go outside and sit on the patio. He would carry his transistor radio, turned to the classical music station, and read the “Calendar” section of the LA Times to see “what theater was in town.” After my father passed away, our patio hit on hard times. It began to take on the look of some abandoned exterior from a gothic novel set in Savannah. Even when our interior was spotless, the patio was always in disarray, with spider webs on our unused flower pots. We bought a grill, but never used it. Our umbrella turned black from the foggy beach air. Our ficus trees died. The only life to ever be found on our patio was this annoying grey cat, a neighborhood scavenger, who one night at 3AM, knocked over our last two remaining ceramic planters, shattering them and waking up half the neighborhood.
After Sophia heard that she didn’t need any more surgery, she decided to take up a life-affirming hobby — fixing up the patio. Sophia loves flowers – cut flowers, plants, potted flowers. She was so over the moon when some of you sent her flowers. She said that having beatiful flowers to look at will bring her joy and help her heal. So we cleaned up all the leaves and hosed down the walls. We spent several hundred dollars at Home Depot, buying pots, flowers, soil, and Miracle Gro. The nice thing about Home Depot is that the “garden guy” actually knows about his subject, which is different from the experience you get from the imbeciles at electronics stores like Best Buy. At Home Depot, Sophia and I learned about perennials and annuals, and which flowers do better in the sun and in the shade.
As we toiled on the patio, re-potting our new flowers, my image of gardening forever changed. I used to visualize it as a hobby for a retired woman. Now, I see it as workout more draining than using the elliptical trainer at 24 Hour Fitness. Just carrying those heavy pots and bags of soil are enough to build your biceps. No wonder why men who “work in the field” are so muscular. Gardening is hot, sweaty, and dirty work, completely different than my typical day of sitting at my computer, drinking diet Snapple with my pinkie raised. One regret: I wish I had never read the side of the soil bag: “contains worm crap, bat droppings, and chicken manure.” Ugh. From now on I double-wash all my fruits and vegetables, including the packages which say “pre-washed.”
As the sweat soaked my Izod polo shirt, which apparently is a bad sartorial choice for gardening, I thought of my father, and how much he loved this patio. It was also Father’s Day. I remembered how my father always got short-changed on Father’s Day because June 19th was also his birthday. The two “holidays” got merged into one, and he usually got one gift.
Even though he died almost two years ago, I don’t think the information has settled in… yet. I don’t walk around “missing him,” as much as I thought I would, mostly because I act as if he’s still around. By saying he’s “still around,” I don’t mean he’s “still with us” in a spiritual way. I mean that he was such a “character,” that I still can vividly hear and see him in my mind’s eye. Sophia, my mother, and I still talk about him all the time, even making fun of his quirks, as if he’s sitting in the next room.
“I just paid eleven dollars for a movie,” I recently told my mother. “Imagine what Dad would say!” And we would laugh, because we knew EXACTLY what he would say.
I’m sure in several years from now, when his image and voice become less distinct, I’ll “miss him” more in the traditional sense. For now, it still feels like he’s around.
Sophia and I worked on the patio for several hours during Father’s Day. As we were re-potting the foxgloves, Sophia and I noticed a tiny black bird, hiding behind the tree in the far corner of the patio. He crouched in the darkness, hardly moving. Every few minutes he let out a little faint chirp and rustled some leaves. We wondered whether it was hurt, unable to fly, or just abandoned by his mother. We discussed at length whether it was a hated crow or a hated pigeon, and decided it had to be a pigeon.
We continued on with our gardening, giving very little thought to the bird. Neither of us are animal people. Neither of us ever owned a pet. We figured that it was safe enough for the bird while we were on the patio. As for later, that’s HIS problem. After dark, the nasty neighborhood cat would come out, looking for food. We assumed that if the bird was injured, he would eventually be eaten.
At this point, you might think us as uncaring people, but we had plenty of reasons to feel unsympathetic towards pigeons. Several weeks ago, pigeons created a nest on our roof. Every morning at 4:00 AM, these ugly pigeons were squarking outside our bedroom window, waking us up, even when Sophia needed her rest after the surgeries. Then, to make things worse, they would take a crap on our cars, and on what was left of our patio. We assumed that this tiny bird was the spawn of these nasty intruders. He was as ugly as his mother, with the same beady, unfriendly eyes.
While Sophia and I didn’t care about this little, lonely pigeon, I knew someone who would care — my father. He would be extremely upset about this scared bird. My father was the type of guy who got tears in his eyes when he would see homeless women (and only women) begging on the street. Before you start oohing and aahing over his kind heart, I should make it clear that my father wouldn’t actually DO anything for this poor pigeon if he was around, but he would have certainly felt the bird’s pain.
I am my father’s son, so I naturally felt bad for the little bird. But what could I do? And so what if the cat eats the bird. That’s the natural order of things. For a while, I was able to ignore the faint chirping of the baby pigeon, and the way it shook with fear, hiding in the corner of our patio, knowing that his end was near. But soon, I realized that I’m not just my father’s son. I’m my own man. And I’m stronger than he was. I could go one step better than he ever could. I put down my package of soil, wiping my dirty hands on my Izod shirt.
“I need to stop gardening for a while,” I told Sophia.
“Already? But we have so much to do!”
Yes. It was time to make my father proud.
“I’m going to save this baby pigeon from the cat!”