It’s not my earliest memory, but it best sums up who my father was.
Among other things, he stood over 6 feet without shoes, and he laughed, often, his enjoyment of life so very apparent. He could build anything, and do anything, or so it seemed. Even in the kitchen, he conjured up a myriad of dishes, including a cloves-infused vegetable soup that put Jamie Oliver, or even Julia Child, to shame. And I still make that soup every winter, waiting for the blustery wind to signal that it’s time to break out the soup kettle.
But one thing I remember most about him was his agility and his strength. After all, a talent scout for the New York Yankees farm team approached Dad, urging him to sign up. My grandfather refused to let him do that, and Dad, ever the good son, went to college instead, and became a plant pathologist with a Ph.D., having succumbed to the charms of spores lurking under a microscope one day, sitting in the usual routine lab, but suddenly not so usual. The wheat of the Pacific Northwest and the cacao of Brazil and West Africa benefited from Dad’s scrutiny into their various ailments and diseases.
Being the times that it was – the 1950s – Dad seemed to naturally gravitate to the John Waynesque persona of the day. We kids floated along on the periphery, outsiders looking in, star-struck in a way over our “movie-star” father.
One autumn day, Dad’s boss – Dr. C. S. Holton – appeared at the back door of our rambling old ex-farm house, its white clapboards sinewy with the original wood, splintered but durable since the late 1800s. He and Dad had decided to graft a number of different apple-tree branches to the immense – and highly productive – apple tree in our front yard. My father, because of his relative youth, elected to climb up the gnarly trunk and eased himself slowly toward each place where the grafted branches would hang, lower rather than higher, for ease of plucking the future fruit, I guess. I watched as he sliced into the bark just so and gingerly attached the new branches with a surgeon’s finesse, easing the pristine progeny into the wounded tree.
Over time, the fledgling branches took root and flowers blossomed, attracting bees and sundry other life forms.
That graft-gifted tree bore delicious fruit for years and years: pie apples, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and several other varieties.
Now my father has passed across the Rubicon, his death a peaceful one. I think of him as being like that apple tree, buffeted by the wind and rain, leaning closer and closer to the ground, where as we all know, our bodies end up, one way or another, fruitful until the last breath.
Dad, I miss you.
In memory of my father, Dr. Laurence Henry Purdy, September 28, 1926 – September 28, 2015.
© 2015 C. Bertelsen