8.30.2013 Journal Prompt

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

August 30, 2013: My father, digging. 

(“Digging”, by Seamus Heaney)

One Reply to “8.30.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. I got a call one day from an old neighbor. It was my Da, she said, and she sounded a little out of breath when she said it and the words catching in her mouth, like she was anxious. She said he was in the garden, which being as how it was a bright day in May seemed a good thing to me.

    ‘But he’s digging,’ she said. ‘Been there all day and he’s just digging.’

    Again I didn’t see what the matter was. A wee bit gardening was all I saw in my head when I pictured it. The neighbor said it was more than that.

    ‘You’d best come see,’ she said.

    She was right. By the time I’d arrived he was standing in a hole that was deeper than he was tall and he had a chair down there and he was sitting looking up at the sky. I asked him if he was on his way to China. He misheard; he said I was on no account to touch Mam’s best china. He’d take his tea in a tin mug, thank you very much, milk and two sugars.

    He was tired at the end of the day and his few words were shrunk to whispers and he said he’d just turn in and get a good night’s sleep. He said he had a busy day ahead of him in the morning, but he didn’t say what that meant.

    As soon as he was sleeping, I went out into the garden and put all the dug soil back again and filled the hole and stamped it down as best I could. I phoned Olivia and said I’d stay the night with Da, just to be sure.

    The next morning he got up, quiet as creeping mouse, dressed in shirt and tie and jacket, and he made himself tea and two slices of toast. Then he stood at the back window looking out at the mess that the yard was with his digging. He looked thoughtful and kept checking his pocket watch as if there was some place he had to be and his hands were flapping like agitated birds. Then he took a breath and said, to no one in particular, that he thought he’d do a bit of digging.

    He took the spade out of the shed and walked to the same spot he’d dug the day before, removed his jacket, and started in again. His face was serious and his shoulders hunched and his breath came with groans.

    I took him tea and biscuits mid-morning and he was sunk to his waist in the redug hole. I asked him if he was ok. He said he was a little tired, that was all. I made a comment on the hole; I asked if he was ‘Digging for Victory’. He’d told us stories once about how the garden had been all vegetables during the war, potatoes and carrots and cabbages as big as beach balls.

    He had a sandwich lunch about mid-day and carried on digging till about five. Then he came in, washed, had his tea and sat in his chair in the front room. And I noticed that gradually his hands became frighted birds again in his lap.

    When he was asleep, I filled in the hole once more and put the spade back in the shed. Every day for a week I did that. Olivia said I should just come home. She said the kids were asking where I was and she was feeling lonely.

    The next day was the same as all the rest: tea and toast and Da surveying the yard and deciding he’d do a bit of digging today. When the hole was dug, he set the spade aside and dragged a collapsible garden chair into the hole and he sat down, his hands folded and at peace in his lap. I tried asking him what he was about. I thought he’d lost it and he needed more help than I could give. Then he said something. Not to me and not to anyone who was near.

    ‘The boy’s doing good,’ he said. That’s all, but it was enough. I understood then. I think I did. It was something he used to say. Words of praise for me and he said it often enough for Mam to hear, reassuring her that all was right with what they’d done in bringing me into the world. Mam was laid in the ground six years back and Da digging a hole was like he was getting near to her, and sitting in his chair with his hands still and he was talking to her and he nodded his head like she was maybe answering.

    I moved back with Olivia and the kids and took to popping into Da’s on my way home from work. I made him his tea and when he was sleeping I filled in the hole so it could all begin again the next morning.

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