Fathers Day: Corn and Tomatoes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I don't have many memories of dad. The last time I saw him was right before he went into the hospital for a final operation on his pancreas. It was an operation he would not recover from. I was eight the last time I saw dad. He died six months later in San Francisco. I had just celebrated my ninth birthday.

This is one of the few surving photos I have of him -- with my mother -- LOOOONGGG before Bill Bird was even thought of.

What memories I do have are fleeting at best. I don't remember father ever living at home. He was a "weekend dad" by the time I actually got to know him. He left my mother, two sisters and my brother when I was just three. I don't have any memories of this -- except to say that "dad" didn't live at home.

Instead -- dad lived with my "other" mom -- Clara. Although my father often referred to Clara as my "other mom" I certainly never called her that. It was enough to earn a warning glare from Clara's eyes. I don't think she liked me much -- although I do remember that she purchased a pair of flip-flops (which we called "thongs" back in the day) for me once.

It was a rare act of kindness.

But dad and gardening went together like peas in a pod. It was a recent Fathers Day posting from Geno's Garden that brought back memories of my father's garden. Although it was a large garden (the old man would dig up half the yard in the spring) -- it seemed to consist of only two summer-time crops: corn and tomatoes.

If there was more -- then I missed it. But I do know this much: Dad loved his corn on the cob until his dying day. No backyard barbeque was complete without corn on the cob and chunks or slices of freshly harvested tomatoes.

Those summer barbeques serve as my best memories of dad -- that and weekend trips to mountain property that he had recently purchased just north of Jackson (wild and secluded in the late sixties and early seventies -- it now serves as a home to a subdivision built around a golf course).

Dad would pick us up in the morning. He was either holding a beer while driving us kids around or already had been drinking for quite some time despite the early morning hour. Near accidents -- as you might be able to imagine -- were commonplace. But I didn't know any better. I was a six or seven year old kid! And dad was taking us out to the mountains or a barbeque at his house.

It didn't get much better than that.

As we marveled at the corn and tomatoes growing tall in the backyard of his Modesto home -- my brother and I did our very best to impale one another with a challenge game of lawn darts. It was either that -- or chase each other around with croquet mallets (games of croquet or lawn darts always followed barbeques -- a Bird family rule).

Although I seem to remember this period of my life lasting nearly forever -- it was fairly short in terms of real years. My "other mother" Clara would eventually tire of my father's antics -- throwing him out of her house. Trips to the mountain property became more infrequent -- as his time at the Tiki Lounge and other Modesto bars gained precedence and importance over family affairs.

And then -- one day -- my mother sent me off to fifth grade at Standiford Elementary School after coldly informing me that dad had died the night before in a San Francisco hospital. Although I didn't know it then -- it was a sign that childhood was over.

I can only imagine what dad would think of our gardening efforts today. Perhaps he would want an ear or two of freshly buttered corn -- or slices of that heirloom tomato covered with salt, oregano and other herbs. Perhaps he'd like another cold one from the kegerator in the GarageMahal.

My guess is he would want all three.

Although there have been many a barbeque since Andrew Jackson Bird Sr. passed from this place in 1972 -- none have been quite the same.


Greg Damitz said...

Very nice post. I, too, lost my father at an early age (9).

Geno's Garden said...

I think my dad would have liked to share some of that corn and tomatoes, and have one of those beers, too!

"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane said...

A beautiful post, Bill. Your father also grew a wonderful son.

Brother Andrew said...

Bill, dad died in March of 1973, about three months before your 10th birthday. If he had died just after celebrating your 9th birthday, mom wouldn't have sent you off to school - that would have been June. Maybe you were confused with Mary, who died six days before your 19th birthday in June 1982.

Venus said...

Brother Andrew? Have you entered the seminary brother in law Andy?