californiaI don’t get back to California very often. When I do, an extended visit of four to five weeks is usually called for in order to adequately serve up willing grandchildren to hungry grandparents and ravenous aunts and uncles. This is of course made possible by the generosity of my husband, who forgoes his chief bottle washer for the company of an aged Labrador, and half-heartedly tries to keep the potted boxwood alive in my absence. He hasn’t succeeded yet, but that’s a tale for another day.

caliMy mother is always overjoyed at the news we are visiting. Shopping trips to my hometown thrift stores are planned, used book stores will be ravished, grandchildren will be fed on diets of baked custard and pancakes, and she and I will spend our mornings with black coffee in hand passionately discussing the state of the world over poached eggs.

My father is rather more sanguine about the visit. He knows what will happen after I finish my coffee, set the children off exploring and put on a pair of jeans. We shall begin a project – and more often than not, it will be a project in the garden. It will involve hard physical work, strained muscles and tense moments. Yet there will be much laughter and joking, even if there are times we don’t feel like finishing.

However, getting my father’s mind round these larger undertakings is always the hardest part. Thus when I say, “Dad, I’m coming out for a visit – put the project list together,” there is a little tremor in his voice as he answers, “What wonderful news…here’s your mother.”

My father has always been the king of “little projects.” As I child, I watched him come home from work, take a few minutes with the paper and then don his “grubbies” to take care of a faulty brake light, fencing gone awry, hillsides that needed seeding, or one of many other nuisance jobs that plague the home owner with property and a two car garage. Yet he never seemed to mind the tasks he chose to undertake. They were always a challenge – a chance to be outside and away from the stifle of office paperwork and florescent lighting.

The jobs he did not willingly choose to undertake however – also known as “my mother’s jobs” – were and are a different story – and that’s where I come in: as interpreter and general mediator between a woman who just wants an attractive deer fence after thirty years of nibbled azaleas, and a man who thinks chicken wire zip-tied to metal T stakes is an eye-catching solution.

A swingset project from earlier days.....

A swingset project from earlier days.....

Now, I am an extremely handy woman. A hammer rests comfortably in the palm of my hand and I have more than a little experience with a post-hole digger and a chisel. I am also not married to my father, which would instantly place my project suggestions within the jurisdiction of spousal deafness – I know, I have a husband of my own.

The bottom line is, I believe that my father grudgingly respects my opinion. That is not to say that there is not a certain amount of cajoling, a few wine-filled evenings (it is California after all), and a final tense moment when he reluctantly comes round to the idea that mine (aka “my mother’s) is the true path after all.

My poor mother just rolls her eyes to the sky, thinks upon her heavenly reward, and has an extra large glass of Cabernet with her spaghetti that evening.

Once my father has been jollied round, nothing can stop him in his quest to start the project. For instance, the morning after Operation Deer Fence had been slated, I woke at seven am to the sounds of him pacing off the garden perimeter, paper and pencil in hand. He’d been up for hours.

“This is going to be a great fence – a really nice looking fence.” He exclaimed as he saw my sleepy face peering at him from an open window. From my parent’s bedroom on the other side of the house, I thought I heard a low groan and the sound of glass breaking.

The new fence at this time of year

The new fence at this time of year

For the next three weeks we dug holes, planted posts, trimmed pickets and butchered shrubs that got in the way of our manic efforts to make the best darn deer fence west of the Rocky Mountains. We were successful – supremely so.

And when my father stood back on that last day, surveyed our hard work and said, “We should have done this twenty five years ago,” it is a testament to my mother’s strength and endurance that she did not hit him over the head with the sledgehammer lying a mere five feet away. Truly she is a remarkable woman.

I can only hope that, in a few years time, my own daughter shares my extraordinary powers of paternal persuasion. I’m putting together the list for her father right now.