An unseen neighbour was in his yard yesterday, doing gardening things, I assume. Our yards and houses are surrounded by thick, high hedges, and I could tell you many details of the families who live behind them but I wouldn’t recognize the people if we passed on the street.
“Kids!” my invisible gardener yelled. “Kids, get out here.”
My dad used to do this all the time. He didn’t come in the house and look for us. He’d stand where he was and shout until somebody heard him. My mother taught us you never did that, you went to find whom you wanted, but Dad did things his way and we instinctively knew to respect him but to copy her.
The younger we were, the faster we’d go to see what the fuss was about. It might be a tiny toad cradled in his calloused, stained hand; it might be a bird’s nest perched in some unimaginable crevice; it might be a baseball glove left outside in the rain, and we were in trouble. It didn’t matter, though. If he called, we went.
He’d call us if he was watching one of his animal shows to see the alligators; he’d call and tell us we should be helping Mom cook; he’d call us into the basement to hold a wrench while he tightened something.
He’d call me outside and give me one perfect rose to take to Mom; he’d call us to help him turn the giant, stinky compost heap that burped like a witch’s cauldron; he’d call us to deliver tomatoes and cucumbers to neighbours.
He’d call us outside after an afternoon rain and point out the rainbow at the end of the court. I’d take off after it, because it looked like it was ending in my friend Kathy McBride’s yard and I wanted to share this revelation with her. I’d ride my bike across one street, and then one more, but I wasn’t allowed to cross Guelph Line, so I never found out where the rainbows ended. To this day, when I see one I think of Kathy McBride.
If he was chopping wood, he’d call me out back to stack it. I’d watch the muscles across his broad back ripple as he swung the axe, and I’d think there was surely nobody stronger than my dad. The split wood would fly from the blade, and wearing my safety gear — a fishing hat with sunflowers on it and flip-flops — I’d dart in and grab it. He didn’t really need one of us to stack it, but before I was old enough to realize it, I felt useful, I felt needed. My dad gave me that.
Most of his gifts to me were like this. The gift of letting something take longer, but letting your child help. “Can I try, Daddy?,” I must have said 1,000 times growing up. Sometimes the answer was a growly ‘no,’ if things weren’t going well. But more often than not, it was ‘yes,’ and he’d shape my hands around the handle of whatever tool he was using, and I’d learn things that look easy aren’t and if I did it wrong and he yelled at me it wasn’t because he didn’t love me it’s because I might get hurt.
I was good at digging up dandelions. He had an ancient long-handled tool and when I asked what it was called, he said it was a dandelion digger. I used it until a few years ago when it finally broke, and I cried.
If your dad calls you outside, you should go.