“There’s only one thing better than potatoes,” my father would bellow as he set out to dig them up.
“What’s that?” I’d say, falling for it every time.
“More potatoes,” he’d answer with a chuckle as he pushed down on his garden fork and overturned yet another hill of fleshy new nuggets.
Every year, without fail, they planted potatoes. Some years they planted them twice. Oh, for a bloody carrot, a radish, even, I’d think to myself. Had they not heard of sunflowers? Rhubarb?
They fenced in the vegetable garden, created a special pathway to the burning barrel right in the middle of it, and, yes, planted more potatoes around the barrel. It was a Depression era thing, it had to be. Or it could have been something to do with my mother’s Irish heritage. Or it may have been an obsession like jogging is now, for some people, or hoarding. They kept saying they had to condition the soil. Give it a rest. As if planting more potatoes would give it a rest.
Lord knows they loved their potatoes.
They got great satisfaction from working in the garden together. In fact, when I was a child, we spent almost every weekend in the backyard.
In later years they were pleasantly surprised by a pair of Adirondack chairs that my brother gave them for their wedding anniversary. Gifts for the garden were usually a good bet in those days.
Special occasions like Mother’s and Father’s Day usually went by with very little fanfare at our house. Choosing gifts for one another was not my parent’s forte. Mum gave Dad his fair share of socks and ties for Father’s Day, and while other ladies we knew received pearl earrings or flowers and chocolates on birthdays and anniversaries, Dad would present Mum with a coffee percolator or an electric can opener which made, say, a pair of gardening gloves look downright thoughtful. It wasn’t usually the items themselves that caused consternation, however, it was what my father would say when he handed her the gifts that could be problematic.
On their wedding anniversary one year Dad presented my mother with a new potato hoe. Presumably to replace one that had collapsed from overuse.
The business end of it was a golden colour, spotless and shining. It was a sight to behold, straight out of the hardware store up the street.
“There you are,” he said with a devilish grin. “It’s a bit early for our Golden Wedding anniversary, but enjoy.”
My mind quickly hearkened back to one particularly bad Christmas morning several years earlier, when he’d presented Mum with a waffle iron.
“I figure it’s about time we had something different for breakfast for a change,” he’d teased at the time.
I can honestly say that Christmases weren’t quite the same after that one, and I braced for the recriminations about the Golden Hoe that were sure to rain down.
But there was silence, a wry smile.
“Why, thank you, Tommy,” she said brightly.
The hoe was put to use in the garden immediately and its patina quickly wore off. But, as things went with my parents, that was not the end of it.
The following June on Father’s Day morning, my mother, who always had to have the last word, handed Dad a heavy brown shopping bag from the Hardware store.
“Happy Father’s Day,” she said, under her breath and left the room. In the bag was a shiny new toilet seat.
The Chairs © Margaret Blackwood