Two days after I saw my father die, I stood in front of his wooden casket, in a matching, brown dress. I regarded the box with curiosity, but didn’t feel much. The body inside, the envelope, as my husband calls it, wasn’t the Dad that I knew.
We stood together in front of the casket; my traditional mother, my ultra-orthodox brother and ever-secular me, in the low-lit, kleenex-strewn family room of a Jewish funeral home. The funeral director reached for my Mom’s and my neck, ripping our mandatory black scarves with gusto and a blade, then went at the lapel of my brother’s jacket. While I appreciate the poetry of these symbols, I felt no need to tear my clothes to show that I was sad, and would have preferred wearing green to honor my father’s long and fertile life. When the director asked us to approach the coffin, one by one, to apologize, ask for forgiveness or whisper something we still needed to say, I smiled through grateful tears. We said it all while he was alive.
Days after we buried my father, dear farmer friends suggested that we plant a tree in tribute, ringing my heart like a bell. Through the wilds of our family life, my father was a mountain of wisdom, a legendary sea of calm. My friends’ organic farm in Hemmingford, Quebec was the place to remember him, and, in their words, to dig holes and reach the sky.
What could do justice to the man? Oak. The word alone is sturdy. Known to survive thousands of years, the Genus Quercus dazzles an open field and covers my winding staircase and dancing floors. I was having trouble finding a baby tree until early one morning while feeding the sheep, my friends discovered that an industrious squirrel was plucking acorns off the single, old oak on their property and planting them as a future food source. My father nurtured entrepreneurship throughout his teaching career and I covet growing what we eat. To harvest and share what we reap.
My friends transplanted a choice bud and scoped out its perfect home, close to the churning compost, where Leopold the Llama stands guard and some very happy sheep roam. Life and death loom under the deep blue sky. Love lives forever on a farm.
Fed and fortified by gratitude and a home-grown, Persian meal, we got down on our hands and knees, dug a small hole and planted a budding oak. This is how it came to be. My father, the good earth, the roots of my tree.
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