You know what I’m talking about, right? Pinching a carrot from the garden when you were a kid? How sweet, how juicy it tasted–a bit gritty from the soil you couldn’t quite brush off–out in the fresh air away from the fun-sucking “It’s good for you” coercion in the kitchen.
Our experience, mine and my four siblings, was a little bit different. First, my dad set about, with us as his only labor force (ages 5-12), clearing a ten by sixteen foot rectangle in the dense Alaskan wilderness. This sounds like nothing much. We cleared it, done.
But in practice it felt like an ordeal along the lines of building the Panama Canal. It included digging up and hauling away rocks, digging up entire root systems, clearing devil’s club, undergrowth and carting away branches and entire trees. We then dragged everything burnable down the beach to the bonfire, sweat stinging our eyes sap sticking our fingers together, muscles aching, bugs biting, feet lagging on the turn around back for another load….
Let’s not forget, this was not during the Great Depression when kids took this sort of hard manual labor in their stride as a normal part of childhood. This was when Cyndi Lauper was singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” And boy was she right. Not that pointing out this fundamental fact of the Eighties did me or my sister any good.
And then, not content with just one garden (after all, he was feeding a family of seven and we had no easy or immediate access to grocery stores) my dad decided to clear an even larger section, twenty by twenty feet of Alaskan horror, to be precise.
More kid-muttering and backbreaking labor.
And then there were the days of hauling bucket after bucket of stinky, slimy, half-decomposed seaweed and spreading it over the gardens for mulch. A plastic bread bag that washed ashore from careless boat traffic we stuffed full of seaweed and used on the head of our scarecrow. We named him Mr. Wonderbread.
Fast forward to when the first succulent green shoots began to appear. Seriously, did he really think that after all that blood, sweat and tears we wouldn’t have a propietary interest in what was growing in those gardens?
Besides, we were living mostly on canned goods and the juicy, tender freshness of the garden veggies CALLED to us.
On the other hand, my dad was a Vietnam vet who had been shot in battle. He had a big, black bushy beard and tended not to say a whole lot when he wasn’t happy with you. He’d also put up a high fence around the gardens–to keep out the four-legged thieves–and he brooded watchfully over those gardens all day.
But not at night.
His potential, murderous fury added the necessary spice to our midnight raids, escaping from the house in the dead wilderness silence of night, ghosting along behind my oldest brother, who was always point man on these high risk missions.
It was the time of year when bears, black and brown, were abroad, but even that threat didn’t stop us. The rutabagas were calling.
The next day, our bellies bloated with raw contraband, my dad rued the day he decided to procreate. In very loud, very vehement terms. That didn’t stop us from planning our next rutabaga raid.
Even when he lived on the water, in the floathouse, my dad was determined to have a greenhouse and gardens. He simply built them on floats and transported dirt–sometimes from miles away–in sawed-off, fifty-five gallon gas drums, via skiff.
The kids were all grown up by then, but that never stopped us from helping ourselves whenever we were in the vicinity…for old times sake. You know, right?
*Note: This post was supposed to be a follow-up on the previous one, focusing on Brent Purvis’s book TSUNAMI WARNING. However, after typing it up our 4G signal, hit or miss at the best of times, disappeared just as I was loading my post. The entire post completely evaporated. So, I walked over to the beach that has the best signal and typed this shorter post up in the shade of an alder tree with Clarence Strait rippling against the rocks a few feet away. I will try again with the Tsunami post tomorrow.
Photos: Top, my dad distributing the soil from sawed-off fifty-five gallon gas drums of dirt he collected sometimes from miles away. Bottom, the finished product, a floating greenhouse and gardens.
~ Here now ~
10/2/2015 02:11:19 pm
In a word: my dad was a Marine Corps recon in front of our front lines during the Korean conflict. Hell hath no fury like an ex-Marine gunny. “His potential, murderous fury…” Dear Lord, yes.
Lovely writing, quite enjoyable, thank you.
10/2/2015 02:20:37 pm
Thank you ~here now~, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, my dad’s fury was a sight to behold. He once picked up a gas generator that had done him wrong and heaved it off the side of our house. Since the house floated, there was a very big splash, lots of bubbles, and the genny did no further harm to man or beast.
I’m happy to report he is a much milder man now, just when there are no more rutabagas to raid. Isn’t that how it always is?