Trespassers and Tantrums

dadMy son, Gary, posted recently that he has planted potatoes. I wish him luck and God willing, there will be no creatures of the forest to come forth, sniff and eat.

However, it took me back to the year my father decided he should have a garden. Now those who knew Dad well took this in stride, knowing full well he would lose interest the minute the vegetables did not grow according to his time table. He was more at home hunting in the fall, fishing in the summer and in between times, sitting on the porch, boots on the railing and a bottle of Old Narragansett in his hands.

And so it was with rolling eyes that the rest of the family watched as he found a hoe and proceeded to break the earth with the strength of his back. In his mind, I am sure he was a pioneer somewhere in the wilds of the Dakotas or perhaps just emerging from his covered wagon en route to California and had just decided to homestead.  He continued for a couple of days and pronounced it ready for the great seed dropping. Which he did. Every day thereafter he hopped the stones in the brook and walked up and down the three rows of his new garden looking for shoots.

It was a day of celebration in the Martin house the day Dad came into the kitchen, hands on hips and announced to the eye-rolling family that he was a successful gardner. The lettuce was up, the radishes were doing great and he knew the carrots were not far behind.  Ma said, well, that’s good, and continued on with her biscuit making. The rest of us smiled and said appropriate remarks such as Gee that’s great. I think he knew that in our hearts we were still questioning his dedication to being a master gardener. In private conversations, we all tried to remember the last time we saw our father eat a vegetable. It had to be the challenge.

One morning the blue skies turned slightly gray when Dad announced he could see animal tracks around the outskirts of his garden. It was becoming personal. He spent most of that Saturday morning making a fence of fishing line around the garden with little stakes and all. There were no questions asked as we watched with fascination as he snaked the fish line across the brook and led it to the porch where he attached a big bell. Hands on hips once more, he said the minute any animal crossed the yard en route to his garden the bell would  sound and he would rise out of bed, run to the yard and shoot his gun in the air.

That sounded like a plan. Except it was Saturday night and Ma went dancing on Saturday nights. Ma came home late, hit the line with her foot, bell clanged, Dad jumped and he met Ma at the front door, gun in hand. Cursing ensued and we in the attic , with eyes still rolling, turned over and went back to sleep.

Not to be out done, Dad decided another course of action should take place. Not that he let the Saturday night debacle fade..no, he injected that into the conversation for quite a few days, That called for a lot of face turning and hidden grins. The fish line would stay in place. Dad knew for certain that deer would be nibbling before long..the green shoots emerging even higher and his hoe had been doing its job . It was a weedless garden worthy of many a second look.

Again the fish line was dragged across the brook, but this time he warned us all that no one, NO ONE should be coming across the yard after nine o’clock. The fish line was draped skillfully around the house this time…and through the bedroom window right by his head and again attached to the bell.

Later, we figured it was about midnight or close to it, when the bell started clanging. Dad jumped out of bed, grabbed the rifle and yelled “Ethel, grab the flashlight”. Ma did not want to go outside with her nightclothes on so there ensued a short conversation, interspersed with Dad cursing and we assumed, from the attic view, practically dragging her, flashlight in hand. The front door opened, steps were heard across the porch and louder cursing. There was no animal in sight.

Back into the house they came with mutterings and banging of the front door. Again, we rolled over and back to sleep.

Fast forward the next morning.  Dad went out at days first light apparently because it was six o’clock and we were in the middle of our fried fish and potato breakfast when in the door he came, hair standing on end and obviously in a rage. What had been a garden fit for a magazine cover was now nothing but spears here and there with deer tracks obliterating his neatly hoed rows. He sat down after delivering the news in a much louder voice than usual, picked up his coffee cup and said, “That’s it. They are smarter than I am and they can have the blankety blank garden.” Though he didn’t say blankety blank, that’s for sure. Another sip of coffee and he said, “You know, we would have had vegetables this summer if your mother could hold a flashlight right.”

Ma said nothing. We said nothing. We knew he’d rather be fishing anyway. The local animals had let him off the hook.

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