Standing between the hot, vibrating fender and the seat, there was just room enough for me to ride beside my father on the tractor. At three miles an hour, we went up and down the vineyard rows, transported by the mellow, acoustic hum of the gas engine as dozens of blackbirds crowded behind us to hunt for worms and bugs in the newly turned soil. This, too, was paradise. There was no mistaking the powerful sense of satisfaction my father felt in tending to this simple, hours-long task — work that was never really done, and which only gave way to other jobs around the farm. There’s no better way to put it, perhaps, than to say he belonged exactly where he was. As a boy growing up, I felt the same way. Everything was meaningful, everything was right — every vine, every leaf, every cane, every jackrabbit and bird, and all of the seasonal sights, scents, and sounds. That I was truly welcome, and often asked to ride along, sealed those times in the vault of lasting memory.
With my mother it was the same. I relished trips to the clothesline, and handing her the wooden clothespins one by one. I loved the feel and smell of clean, white sheets hanging warm in the sun. And her sense of peaceful satisfaction was every bit as strong as my father’s. Even then, I could see that they were working together. They were working together, too, when my mother did the ironing, and let me sprinkle water on the clothes as she pressed the wrinkles out of the fabric, the collared school shirts, our stiff, tough jeans. Not once did I sense in her the slightest hint of resentment, or get the feeling that she’d rather have been doing something else. She loved her family, she loved her home, she loved being a mother, she loved her role.
My parents depended on each other. And when visitors were around, which was often, no matter how tired my mother and father were, day or night, each of them shined brightly as warm, welcoming hosts. In those days, much of our company was unexpected, and I remember us dropping in on friends in the same way, knowing full well that we’d be welcome. Something simple to eat or drink was almost always offered, something baked, something bought, lemonade, coffee. And then came the latest news and the same old stories. What better way to pass an hour? What better teaching for a child?
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Tags: Birds, Blackbirds, Childhood, Hospitality, Ironing, Jackrabbits, Love, Memory, My Father, My Mother, Our Old Farm, Paradise, Satisfaction, Seasons, Teaching, The San Joaquin Valley, Tractors, Vineyards, Visitors, Wooden Clothespins, Work, Worms