I recently spent some time up at my in-laws’ place planting tomatoes. I got up there in the morning, trying to get there as early as possible, and worked until it just got too hot. The garden has been fallow for more than a year, and the ground was difficult to work.
While I was up there, by myself, in this little clearing in the woods, I had time to just work and think. I dug the dirt and listened to the birds. I planted the tomatoes and felt the breeze. I looked up as Bob, my Mother-in-law’s dog trotted by to check on me before dashing off in pursuit of a chipmunk. It was peaceful up there, and I understand why my Father-in-law loved it. He was ready to retire, so he could work in the garden when he wanted to, keep his bees, play his banjo and find the next hobby.
This was the second attempt at planting tomatoes. You may remember seeing Lollypop covered in dirt a few posts ago – that was from our first attempt, but all our seedlings died and I had to buy some plants to catch up. When we went up to the garden that first time, it was quite a shock to see it so neglected. I had never before seen the garden so grown up with little weeds. The blueberries and asparagus are still doing well, but the rest of it is covered in a bright green carpet.
We did plant some things last year. Jellybean helped me plant a few rows of corn, which all got knocked down by raccoons, and we put out some tomato plants, which yielded a few yummy tomatoes later in the season. But with a new baby for us and cancer treatments and complications for my father-in-law Jim, the garden was pretty far down the list.
I remember the first time I met my husband’s parents. We were at a birthday party for one of Jim’s band members. It was also the first time I’d heard their band play. The band had been together for many years, watched my husband grow up and were really an extended family to him. That evening was quite enjoyable. I chatted with my husband’s parents about music and all our pets (they also have several cats and dogs). It was easy to talk to them, from the first moment.
I watched them at one point in the night, and Jim put his arm around Becky and they looked at each other and smiled. That moment was so sweet and sincere, and it has cemented itself in my memory. I knew I was watching two people who genuinely loved and cared about each other, even after more than 40 years of marriage.
They welcomed me as part of the family from the start. In the first years of our marriage, we lived a couple of hours apart from my in-laws. Whenever we’d visit, and especially after Jellybean was born, Becky and my husband would go off and play with Jellybean while Jim and I sat and chatted. We would talk about everything. We shared many interests: gardening, music, bread-baking, making things, among others. He was the recipient of my hand knit Christmas gifts every year, and one year he even complimented how much my skill had improved, much to my delight.
Of course, we didn’t agree on everything. We’d butt heads on occasion, most often about child-rearing topics, but he always respected me and my positions.
In the last months of his illness, he would tell me things he hadn’t mentioned to my mother-in-law yet, about a symptom he was having or how he felt. She might have overheard us talking if she was in the house, or I would talk to my husband about it and then he would tell his mother. I think that was a way to mention things to her in a round-about way.
He was genuine, down to earth, and a lot of fun to be around.
And I miss him oh so much.
We found out in late March last year that he had esophageal cancer that had already spread to his lymphatic system. He went through treatment that summer and it seemed promising, but it only reduced the size of the tumor in his esophagus. Further treatments were complicated by other long-term health issues. He passed away just before Thanksgiving.
I’m glad we moved when we did. We have been able to help out in ways that would never have been possible living more than 2 hours away. Jim got to meet Lollypop, which might not have been possible if we didn’t live so close. Jellybean got to spend some good time with them, too, even spending the night once. (Jellybean remembers going to eat at Captain D’s, and Granddaddy running over the rumble strip on the highway on the way there. Accidentally, at first, but then again and again because it made Jellybean laugh.)
As I worked in the garden that morning, he was on my mind. He would be so proud of his grandsons. Jellybean is smart and clever, with seemingly endless energy. Lollypop is a little sweetheart, learning new things every day. He would be proud of his son, too. My husband has always been the level-headed sort, and he’s been running the family business since we moved here.
It feels like an enormous loss to the world for Jim to be gone, but he leaves an incredible legacy. He contributed to the world in quiet ways: by putting his best effort into everything he decided to do, being generous with his knowledge, and loving the people in his life as much as possible. He taught my husband these same values and my hope is that we can honor him by raising our boys half as well.
The title of this post is also the title of a song that Jim and his band played frequently. I think it was special to Jim and the band and their interpretation of the song always moved me, no matter how many times I saw them play it. It seems fitting to end this post with it.
This is Hickory Wind, playing at the Mountaineer Folk Festival at Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee. September 7, 2014.