I know technically lilacs are more a shrub than a tree, but the old fashioned white lilac which grew by my childhood home looked like a tree to me. It reached up to three quarters of the height of the farmhouse, its base as thick as a tree. At blossoming time, it smelled heavenly and looked divine. When past its season for blooms, the true green, heart shaped leaves filled out the “tree.”
A water spigot and hand pump stood in the ground near the lilac. My dad often hung a tin cup, a hankie, or his white tee shirt on an extended branch of the lilac tree. The cup within handy reach, suspended from its handle, looped over a branch at the ready to help quench one’s thirst on a hot day.
In the summer when the mercury rose, Dad often walked around shirtless. Long days of gardening and farm work left him with a deep tan, which hinted at his Native American roots. A lilac branch became the receptacle for his sweat drenched shirt as he cooled off with a dose of cold water.
He always carried a hankie, which he used for much more than something to blow his nose on. When the temps raged, he’d soak the cloth with cold well water and anchor it around his neck. Usually, its tail dangled out of the back pocket of his jeans when not in use.
Thinking about that white lilac “tree” led me to remembering my father. I see him sitting underneath it in the shade on a hot day. After my oldest brother died a couple of years ago, we siblings reminisced about old times around the table in the farmhouse. My memories of him differ slightly from my siblings remembrances. I was the tail end of the children train, coming in at #6 as an unexpected arrival. Dad had passed his fiftieth decade by the time I came along. I recall him as a kind, quiet, and gentle man, but my siblings sometimes experienced a harder side of him.
As an old school farmer, “jack of all trades” substituted for my father’s middle name. The stress of taking care of a dairy herd, raising crops to feed them, fixing broken equipment, and providing for his family no doubt left him frustrated and lacking patience at times. My dad retired from farming the year I turned nine, so I don’t have a large memory log of our farming days. I’m sure life became a lot more relaxed for him when he laid his farmer’s cap to rest.
I could say so many things about my father. I know he wasn’t perfect, but I remember him as a good father: present, wise, loving, and ingenious. Dad came up with quite a few inventions which made our farming life easier. He enjoyed woodworking and could play, by ear, most any instrument he picked up. Harmonica, guitar, and the accordion were his instruments of choice.
He was a strong man, physically and mentally. Not many 85 year old men can swing from a wild grapevine in the woods like Tarzan. I saw him emotional only a few times. He got choked up sometimes when he talked about his mother, and he cried when my mother struggled through cancer and passed away.
Most of all, I remember Dad as a content man, never down or grumpy. On most occasions, he had a smile on his face and a whistled tune on his lips. My dad taught me to work hard and to do things right the first time. He set an example of faithfulness in his marriage and his belief in a God.
I hope he knows how grateful I am for the father he was. I may have told him a time or two but not enough. If you hold gratitude for a father figure in your life, make sure you tell them. Life passes before you know it, and you can never go back and say the things you wish you had.
I smell the cut blooming lilac branches in a blue Mason jar on my table, and I remember and am thankful for my father on this Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today?