The stubborn root
(This post is from almost five years ago. My Dad is at a different place now; he is at a place of need. I once wondered if I would know when more help was needed, and he assured me that I would. He was right.)
I walked past Dad, my arms wrapped full of branches from my own pruning.
The day was near 90, I was finished with my job and was ready to clean up and head inside for a cool drink. I took my branches on down to the pile, then climbed the small hill to see what he was doing.
He was scuffling his knees through a rough patch of rocks; tugging and yanking at roots, pausing now and again to pick up his pruners in his effort to uproot an insidious bush.
“Want some help?”
Of course not. It is fine for me to help my mother, she needs it after all. But him? Need help? Never.
Fierce independence brought him to good health at 85. It makes him strong and keeps him grumpy, and I wouldn’t take it away from him for the world. He knows that once he loses the ability to do something, he is unlikely to gain it back. He forges on, never giving himself permission to be indulgent nor choose the easy path. Tougher than anything, this one.
But still. This work will take him days. I crawl under a guidewire and start tugging at loose roots.
“Been working on this for weeks already,” he confides. “Gonna do this patch here, and then quit.”
I leave the pruners to him, pulling my shears out of my pocket for the little branches. I won’t take a man’s work away from him. I’m his girl. I can’t be stronger than he is.
He cuts, I pull. The pruners slip, his hand hits a jagged rock. Skin that is paper-thin tears when it brushes against a doorframe. You can imagine what stones do. I wince, but don’t say anything. I’ve made that mistake before, and he won’t take it. He laughs my off my concern.
“Oh, that. It doesn’t hurt. I don’t even feel it. It’ll be better by tomorrow.” I nod, agreeing with him. It’s really the only way.
We continue, me surprised that he has let me stay. He loves me, but I can’t have his work. As he once said, “If you take all of my work from me, I won’t have any reason to be around.”
Well. I won’t do that, then.
At one point a year or so ago I asked, “Dad, how will I know when you really do need help?”
He replied, “You’ll know.”
Okay. But until then, can we work side by side at times?
We can, and this time we did. We finished the entire patch, both of us red faced with heat and sweat and effort. He even surrendered the pruners for a time, so that I might reach in at a differing angle. I worked hard and fast, knowing that he would not let me have them for long. We talked about a nephew’s wedding and how to eradicate the offensive plant once and for all.
“Boiling water,” he says.
“Boiling salt water, I say.
Nothing taken from independence; but a little bit of me given and little bit received.
“Thanks, my girl.”
“My pleasure, Dad.”
I don’t expect it again anytime soon – and that’s just fine with me. Let’s make it last as long as we can.
*this photo is not my own original.