I’ve grown accustomed to seeing my mother on a regular basis. Like anytime I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. She’s with me wherever I go, perhaps even more closely since she died in 1998.
What’s more surprising to me is seeing Dad. Not in a mirror, but in the expression of a friend here, in a chuckle or in the barely noticeable limp of a hard-working man walking past me.
He’s been gone even longer. He died in 1990. But by all accounts, he got to Haiti before I did.
I told the story again today. I enjoyed lunch with two farmers from high in the mountains above the Artibonite River and a colleague who lives near me in Port-au-Prince. Andre Ceus and Lormè Previlus came to the capital city on business, and the four of us caught up at my house for lunch.
Fabienne asked me about my home in Virginia, and I explained that I grew up on a farm in the countryside of Virginia, in a great valley. I went on to tell them that my father had been a farmer, even though he had been wounded in World War II and lost his right leg below the knee. Farming was his love, so he worked hard to continue the way of life he’d been born to.
“My father had the biggest garden ever,” I exaggerated. Slightly. “And I hated working in the garden.”
Dad’s gardens encompassed a good quarter acre. At least that’s how large it looked when I was 10 and it was summertime and I was expected to pick beans or pull weeds and the neighbor kids were watching television.
They laughed as expected, then Lormè, a man about 45 but looking older, leaned over the table and gently reminded me in his native language: “But it is the garden that gives you life.”
I nodded, taken aback just a bit by the sound of my father’s voice speaking Creole.
Dad worked a full-time job and farmed on the side. Money was tight in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That garden provided much of our food during the summer, and we enjoyed potatoes from it long into winter.
“I liked eating from the garden,” I replied. “I just didn’t like working it.”
“Your father is smiling at you now,” Fabienne said with a smile of her own.
And I had to agree. My life’s calling has brought me to Haiti where I work with men like Andre and Lormè and Papa Luc, all of them farmers who depend on their land to provide food and extra income for their families. Like my father, they cherish the land they toil. Like my father, they keep their spirits up even in the toughest times by telling stories — and listening, too.
And like my father, to them, family and farming are one in the same.
Lormè isn’t the first to bring my father to mind here. Papa Luc Celestin and his family hosted me for the first month I lived in Haiti. He, too, farmed, worked in carpentry and walked with a limp. “If your father was alive, would he visit Haiti?” he once asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I know I would have a lot of questions from him.”
And I would. And he is here. And he is smiling.
And you know what, Dad?
So am I. I am eating from gardens as beautiful and as essential as yours. I am so grateful for all.