It began as a gravel pit. The gravel company was selling the lots in back of all the houses on our street, and my father bought two of them.
He hauled in topsoil and spread it by hand. From that rocky wasteland, he grew vegetables for eight children, plus friends and neighbors.
Well, except one neighbor, who turned up his nose at Dad’s carrots, because they “had dirt on them.” We wondered if he thought they grew inside the clean plastic packages with the bunny picture!
There was nary a weed between the neat rows of Dad’s vegetables. “I use the two most potent weedkillers known to man,” he said, “My thumb and my forefinger!”
His “Miracle Grow” was the pile of leaves (pre-crushed by eight laughing, jumping children), hand-spaded into the soil, or compost made in a bin he recycled from scrap lumber.
One year, no doubt to the dismay of the neighbors, a chicken farmer gave him a five-foot-high mound of fresh manure. Good thing the cellophane-carrot man was upwind! Dad stuck to leaves after that.
His garden was was legendary, the crowning achievement of an incredible amount of work. We took our turns weeding, but Dad outworked all of us put together.
Dad wasn’t one to say a lot, but he showed us what it took to be an expert gardener. His example spoke louder than words.
Once I asked him about his brine-cured pickle recipe. He gave such vague instructions that I was forced to just remember him doing, not telling. “Collect about two days’ worth of cukes, fill the crock with the garden hose, add several boxes of pickling spice …”
That’s not what I call a recipe! But I remember him doing it. I remember the big crock, taller than me, and how he put a rock on top of the platter holding the cucumbers and green tomatoes under the brine. Oh, and I can’t ever forget the wonderfully pungent smell as they cured, giving our cellar that distinctive aroma!
We learn from example. I wish I could say Dad set the example of Christianity, but he was an avowed atheist.
It was late in life when he finally let me talk about God to him. When I sing “Faith of our Fathers,” it has a different meaning than it might have to you.
My “fathers” in the faith are the courageous men who came out of denominationalism and stood for the Bible in its simplicity; or the caring individuals who saw a need for missions in the Northeast.
My brother Jim and I were recently talking about growing corn. Most people make straight rows, but we mound up the soil and plant four kernels. Dad used to say, “One for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow,” as he planted his Golden Bantam or Country Gentleman.
Jim says it was for better pollination. I say it was because corn roots are so shallow, and the togetherness holds the corn up against the wind.
No matter. Dad did it, and we followed his example. Whether or not he told us the reasons for his methods, the example stuck with us both. That’s something to think about as our children and grandchildren model our examples!
Here’s the example that matters in eternity:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
He who was called “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6) is our example.