When the temperature approaches, oh, 100 degrees or so, the thermometer on my window registers 120+. It’s been hot out there, folks. Blessed hot. Hot enough to fry an egg on the asphalt (or a sidewalk if you have one). Hot enough to singe the hair off a brass monkey. Hot enough to breed sheep. (Not sure what that means but I think it’s, like, bawdy or something, maybe even vulgar.) Hotter than Satan’s armpit. Hotter than a tin roof on the 4th of July. Hotter than a cast-iron commode in the middle of a volcano. Hot as Hades.
On the hot days, I go out to work in the flowers by 6:30 at the latest. At 9:30, it’s time to come inside. That’s just about the time Dad goes out. Cold hurts his hands and feet. Dad has Raynaud’s Disease, a condition that causes his fingers and toes to over-respond to cold temperatures.
It’s very cool this morning, following the good soaking rain we got last night. I’m going to clean vines out of the shrubbery in front of the living room picture window. I can’t pull them out; they’ve been growing there for at least fifty years. My best treatment is to reach under them and clip the sprouts close to the ground, knowing I’ll have to do that twice more before winter. Yesterday, when I told Dad my work plans for today, he asked if I had ever imagined reaching into the leafy mulch beneath those bushes and pulling out, well, maybe a snake.
Today I’ll just reach under the three old bushes with a small rake.
My gardening time and Dad’s don’t usually overlap, but this morning is an unusual one when I may still be out when he begins his day. He will find me to ask, “Where did you say you want me to put those little nandinas?” Or he will say, “When you get that wheelbarrow full of clippings, come get me and let me take it to the compost.” Maybe, “Is it okay if I put some of that monkey grass on the bank?”
Sometimes he needs my help.
“Come here, Sis, and twist this twine around that stake while I push on the tree.” He always needs to show me something, or me to show him something. Sometimes he calls me to the vegetable garden to see how many early green beans are on the vines or to look at the loaded blackberry briars. A few days ago, we investigated some purple Rose-of-Sharon on the ravine bank.
He rarely gives advice, but when he does, it’s usually about taking care of myself.
“Young lady,” he says, “you need to get yourself inside because you’ve worked enough and you’re going to get too hot.”
Last Thursday, our time and locations overlapped. I got out a little late and I was in the large corner garden that backs up to the ravine. We were both cutting and pulling vines, Dad down, me up. His ladder leaned on the bank of the Big Ditch just below where I sat pulling ground ivy from around a tall tree. I could barely see him down in the thick overgrowth—but only when I stood up and leaned over the side of the ravine. I thought, as I had before, that he could be hurt—or out cold—down there in the ravine, and none of us would know it. I called to him occasionally.
“Hey, you still down there? I don’t hear you singing.”
“Oh, Sis, are you still up there? I can’t sing when I’m pulling. Takes too much breath.”
By 11:30, sufficiently tired of sweltering, I decided to wrap it up and head for the house. I’d have time to rest, cool off and clean up before I put lunch on the table at 1:00. Still sitting on the ground by the big tree, I gathered up hand tools to drop into my basket.
Something whizzed by my head, so close that I felt the whir of air. I turned to see Dad’s hatchet on the ground three feet behind me.
“Dad! Good lord, you nearly got me!” I yelled.
“Oh, Sis, are you still up there? I forgot you were there. I’m quitting for the day. I always throw my hatchet up.”
“You barely missed me. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Oh, it wasn’t that close.”
“How would you know? You’re not up here.”
“Because I know where I threw it.”
“You threw it at my head, that’s what you did.”
He appeared at the top of the ladder and grunted his way onto the bank and hauled himself upright.
“Now, look at that, it wasn’t even close to you.” He pointed to the grounded hatchet.
“I think you missed me by about ten inches.”
He chuckled and brushed off his overalls. “Well, I’m going in the house. I’ve done enough.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. You scare me.”
“And you better get yourself inside out of this heat, too.”
“I’m going. I was rounding up my tools when you tried to bury that ax in my head.”
I watched him toddle across the back yard. He was worn out, but he was laughing. I was, too.
When Dave and I sat down for the 5:00 o’clock cocktail hour at the apartment, I nodded toward Dad.
“You know what he did out there today?” I told Mom and Dave. “He tried to kill me with a hatchet.”