I 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.
My 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.