I turned 60 today.
I don’t quite know how I got this old this quickly. I don’t understand how this person who feels like myself is trapped in this body that the calendar says is 60. I’ve never minded the passing of years, to be honest with you. But maybe I just never took time to think about the sand in the hourglass and how it would, some day, run out. I look at the years that lie behind me and realize, with the proverbial jolt, that the years ahead are far, far less than all those happy years that I’ve already lived.
Today has been such a happy day. Each one of my siblings wished me a happy birthday. My far away Oldest Brother and Middle Brother called, as did Youngest Brother. I saw Youngest Sister at Sweet Mama’s this morning and talked to Middle Sister on the phone this afternoon. And all the offspringin’s and the ones they love have called or texted or visited. I have a little grandson in Ohio who shares my birthday, and I even talked to him on the phone tonight. It has been a glorious day.
I’ve done some thinking this week about many things. It’s been a season of missing my Daddy rather intensely. I cannot always say why things sit heavy on our hearts at particular times, but it seems to me, after what is now the eighth summer without him, that the one thing that triggers it for me is putting the garden to rest for the season. Certain Man has been taking down “them thar tomato thingies” and mowing off the spent vegetable plants. I gathered the peppers and green tomatoes last week and made hot dog relish. The few ripe tomatoes got put into a few last quarts of juice.
But the pole limas are still standing. Yesterday, I picked what I am pretty certain is my last big picking from the twenty three plants that made it through this summer. They have done exceptionally well this year. When I finished the last bags for the freezer last night, I realized that I have seventy 3-cup bags in the freezer from this summer. I’ve done them along, four bags here, six bags there, and a time or two there has been ten. Wonderfully tender, vibrant green, and so, so good. I am so grateful for the way the bags have added up this summer.
It is the eighth summer without our Dad. When Daddy died in December of 2005, there were so many things that were the essence of him that we knew we could never replicate, never replace. The man he was, and his influence on our lives. His prayers. His vibrant interest in each of us, and his steady encouragement. We really can do nothing to fill in these spaces that were left when God called him home to Heaven.
But there were other things that we could do. I could grow lima beans. At least I thought I could. I honestly didn’t know very much about it, seriously had no idea how much WORK was involved, but decided that it would be one way that I could maybe feel close to this man who was so HUGE in my life and was suddenly so gone. Maybe I was somehow trying to capture a tangible part of Mark Yoder, Sr., and make it my own. Certain Man was more than willing for me to try, and in the summer of 2006, at my request, he built the pole, wire and twine lattices for two rows of beans. He asked for advice and got healthy plants from the experts. He did the planting and the weeding and slowly the plants grew and blossomed and began growing beans.
I was impatient for beans. The first ones I picked made barely a cup in the smallest pan I had. They were so good, and Certain Man and I shared them, delighted with the first fruits of our labor. Then I checked and rechecked and finally decided that I could actually do a real picking. I think I got a basket. They were little and piddly and wonderful flavor, but clearly not ready. I’ve thought so much about that summer as I’ve picked big, full pods of limas off of my plants this year. The truth was, when I barely got anything in those first pickings, I grew more and more discouraged. My grief was so deep and terrible, and when I was in the bean patch, I missed Daddy with an ache that often had me wiping tears on my sleeves as I searched for the beans. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had to feel each bean to see if it was ready, and the task seemed interminable. I found myself more and more just staying out of the patch, not thinking about the passing of the days.
And then we had a hard, killing frost. The leaves on the bean vines shriveled and died and the pods that I had never picked hung brown on the vines. It looked like thousands of pods; good, good lima beans that had gone to waste. I hated the sight so much. Certain Man finally took them down, put the garden to rest, and I didn’t have to look at them anymore. I didn’t know if I could even try to raise limas again.
Certain Man is not a man who allows me to wallow. He understands grief. He’s certainly had his share, and honest emotions are treated with gentle kindness. But he dislikes moping almost as much as he likes lima beans. And he had built those really good supports and I’m not sure he even asked me the next year if I wanted to have pole limas or not. Had he asked, though, I probably would have said “yes.” Spring always does that to me, and there is a hope and a deep belief that this year things will go better than they ever have, that the garden will stay weed-free, that there will be not produce left go to waste, and that no one will resent anything that might grow there. Anyhow, Certain Man planted limas again in the summer of 2007 and things went a whole lot better.
Each year I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with our patch of beans. I often think of Daddy while I’m out there picking, but I seldom need my sleeve for more than wiping sweat off my face. The memories are warm and good and they often make me smile when I remember the man who probably picked thousands of bushels of lima beans in his time. I remember his eyes and the laugh lines around them. I remember the way he would sit on his chair and shell beans with drive and attention. I think about how he liked to get a pan for the grandchildren and rope them into helping. I remember his delight in a pot of lima beans, made by Sweet Mama, exactly the way he liked them, and the way he could put them away at a meal.
There are life lessons here, I know, and over the summer, there have been many life applications for this old gal that came from the bean patch. But on this night, of the milestone birthday and realizing that Dad only had 16 years left when he was my age, and thinking about being faithful in small things and leaving memories behind us, and how, no matter how much people may want us to stay and think they need us, we don’t really have a choice as to when God calls us home– all these things somehow feel like they really have to do with the lessons I’ve learned in two rows of pole limas in a small garden patch on a Delaware Poultry farm.
Common, ordinary days that are touched with Heaven.