Or, Belated letter, cont’d.
July 2, 2013
When I tell you that my dad is one of my heroes, you musn’t think that we had an easy relationship, or that we were one of those enviable father-daughter duos who hang out together enjoying similar things effortlessly, with giant smiles on our faces. Not hardly. We did love a lot of the same things–dogs, horses, books, strawberries, sunshine, winter, farms, ideas, sciences, walks, camping, gardens, Mom, my siblings–but we fought about most of them almost endlessly.
My dad was an intense, difficult person. Maybe so am I. I was as a teenager and college kid, that’s for sure. (Still am intense, probably less difficult; sometimes wish otherwise on both counts.) I didn’t really realize how close my dad and I were for a lot of our shared time on earth together; I didn’t see for a long time how similar. I loved him, yes; also he drove me to distraction. I’m sure that went both ways. Which is all to say that we were more like matches and gasoline put together than we were like bread and butter.
But as contentious and fraught as our relationship often was, he’s still one of my big heroes. I was thinking about why for some character work that’s tumbling around in my brain with all my other summer thoughts last night. (Make a schedule w/ PM on split on Sunday; put in Sysco order; put in ice cream order; Lipari order due by 5; how long on that pizza?; GET MORE FRIES!!; when will more fringed purses arrive?; FORGOT TO ORDER CHIPS, how could I????; what about credit cards?; Cole slaw goes with the fish baskets at table six; ask Laura if she reimbursed herself for those apples and walnuts; it’s so great Micah’s here and I love Espy; what time are those people coming for that cookie order tomorrow? water the plants, etc.)
He’s a hero a lot of reasons, I decided. But a big one has to do with sweet basil.
Either I or my brother Mark introduced Dad to basil late in life, at a point when a lot of people might be done taking on new flavors and ideas; might have decided they already knew what foods they liked, what hobbies, what vegetables and flowers they wanted in which rows in their garden. Not Dad. At seventy-ish, with serious health problems, from a background that could easily have led him to take a narrow view of things in life but didn’t (not with him or his many brothers or sisters), Dad fell in love with basil. He started growing it in his garden, the largest and healthiest basil plants I’ve ever seen anywhere, and started making his own pesto, getting Mom to bring home parmesan and olive oil and walnuts from the grocery store. I can see him right now at the food processor in the farmhouse kitchen, pushing the start button, the basil leaves whirling away into puree. I see his big square hands, his sinewy arms, very tanned, a giant smile on his face. I smell pesto. I hear wind chimes. The tags on Millie’s collar jingle. Mom’s nearby–doing the dishes or reading, maybe. Dad’s having fun. Serious fun with this new thing in the world he’s discovered.
I ran into a baby pot of basil when I was buying flowers for the diner a few weeks ag0. Actually I ran into the smell before anything. First the smell, then instantly the sense that my dad was near. Papa, I thought. Tears sprang into my eyes, the sense of all the best of him, the soaring aspects of his spirit, was so powerful and dear.
I bought the plant, of course. Stuck it into an old metal mop bucket I bought for five bucks at a junk sale a decade ago or more and never had a use for until now.
It’s doing well. Every time I walk buy it on my way out the door to the Post Office or grocery store, I smile and feel the tug of my own roots in soil.
Hi, Dad, I think.
I want to tell my mom about it but keep forgetting. So now I have written it down and maybe I’ll remember next time I phone her.