There were trips to the park and visits to the lake. There were cookouts and camp outs. There were surprise pop-ins to see mom at her job. My brothers and I figured we had the greatest dad in the world.
The garden got bigger that summer and soon the taste of the season was synonymous with a red ripe tomato still warm from the sun. Mom and dad made sauce and canned and I had homemade ketchup for the first time.
Strange magazines with titles like Countryside and Dairy Goat Journal found their way onto the coffee table and words like Nubian entered the family vernacular. A series of thick, dog-eared page books could be found on dadís bedside table. He had discovered the Foxfire series of books that celebrate a simpler way of life in southern Appalachia and would soon be proficient in hog dressing and making handmade soap.
I drank goatís milk for the first time. I ate goat meat and secretly hoped we wouldnít be raising animals just to eat them when the garden provided more than enough food. I learned how to turn compost and was pleasantly surprised at how good rotting scraps from the kitchen could smell if properly tended.
From the looks of things, dad didnít want to go back to wearing a suit every day in the real world; he wanted to create a different kind of real world, a world of self-sufficiency. This dream would not come to pass as autumn approached and the suits came back from the dry cleaners, pressed and ready to get wrinkled behind the knees on long trips by car through the mountains of West Virginia as a salesman in the printing industry.
We all thought dad was rather crazy to think we could raise goats and live off the land anyway.
It wasnít until I was a teenager that the seed dad had planted in my own brain sprouted to reveal a desire for self-sufficiency in the form of growing a garden for both sustenance and for pleasure.
In college my gardens were always small and often in containers on a second story balcony or alongside the narrow stairs of the stoop in an old Victorian triplex. When I bought my first house I still kept the garden small and diamond shaped where I grew lavender from seed for the first time.
We all garden for different reasons. I often hear fellow growers talk about their parentsí or grandparentsí gardens. I think those of us who had a garden as children are more likely to appreciate what must be put into a garden in order to take something out.
My dad never told me one day I would have a garden of my own or that I would get giddy at the thought of a new shovel. He unintentionally inspired me to be a gardener that summer when I was 6 years old. Even after he had to go back to work I donít believe he ever stopped dreaming of self-sufficiency, even if it was only in the taste of a red ripe tomato still warm from the summer sun.
Published: February 13, 2012