Fathers’ Day Memories: Losing My Young Dad

This annual observance has very special meanings for me. Instead of the usual declaration about why my father was the greatest, or how-to guides on buying Dad the best ties or tools, I’ll tell my story.

Earliest memories are of my young dad, Ben, coming home from work each evening and sitting with me in our backyard family garden. I was almost four that June in 1929, and we had planted a small radish patch.

The memories are brief and with deep loss, as he died several months later. The eternal questions: Could he have been more careful with his health and avoided fatal illness? Did he fail by leaving his widow and three young kids destitute during America’s Great Depression?

Through the decades, instead of anger, I feel only a sad, lingering wish of what could have been. Even today, I still recall Ben’s tall figure, friendly face, neat mustache and wavy brown hair. He’d greet me with a hug and settle into a garden chair with me on his knee. Then it was time for tales of how he grew up on a ranch in the Wild West.

He described cattle drives, battles with bandits, Indians, cowboys and starlit campfires. I learned later they were fibs, but when I heard them then, I happily believed every word. Actually, Ben came to America from Germany as a child with his refugee family in the late 1890s.

Radishes are the simplest vegetables to grow, a task just right for an almost-four-year-old. Under my dad’s watchful eye, I sowed the seeds in late April and carefully watered them daily.

During his daily visit, he’d admire my skills and comment on the rich green leaves as they emerged. My requests for Wild West stories were always granted, and our joyful time together was full of imagination and wonder.

A month later when the red root vegetables were ripening, my dad suddenly stopped visiting me in the back yard. I tearfully asked my mom why he didn’t want to be with me. She said he was sick and would be in bed for a couple of days. She assured me he’d be with me in my radish patch again just as soon as he recovered.

He never saw my garden again. Later, I was allowed to visit briefly daily in his bedroom. At first he’d ask about my radish patch and promise to be with me again soon, but as the days passed he became silent, as if asleep. After several months, Ben died of a kidney disease at age 34, long before antibiotics could have cured him.

When my own kids were growing up, we planted radishes and other vegetables in our backyard garden. Even today, whenever I see a bunch of bright red radishes, I’m reminded of my dad. I still cherish those too brief, wonderful moments we spent together in my radish patch.

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