by Bernice Garfield-Szita
As we tell members of our bereavement group, The Mourning After, we never know when a memory will flash into our minds and stir strong emotions. I wanted to share this experience I just recently had with you.
Two weeks ago, My husband Bob and I went on our annual trek to Gasko’s nursery in Monroe Township to buy plants and seedlings for our garden. We both really love this outing and enjoy roaming the sprawling greenhouses that hold trays of intensely colored annual and perennial flowers, herbs, hanging baskets and great assortments of vegetable seedlings.
As I was wandering down the vegetable seedling aisle, my eyes taking in all the amazing growing possibilities, my gaze fell upon a tray of tomato plants that gave me a jolt. They were an old classic called Ramapo tomatoes developed by Rutgers University. I had not seen this variety in many years
My memory swiftly went back to the early 1970’s when I first moved to New Jersey from Brooklyn. Perhaps it was a throwback gene from my roots in Russia, but I was always fascinated by growing things and eating the foods that I tended in my little garden patch outside our home in Manalapan. When my father came to visit my house, he too was excited about the idea of growing a delicious crop in his small garden in the back of their two family home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I offered to buy him tomato plants that were particularly productive, Rutgers Ramapo, so that he could grow them himself. He was a “city boy” and enjoyed this little bit of farming. He loved that idea and so began a bond between us that continued until he died in 1983. He would brag to me that his neighbors were very jealous of his beautiful, abundant crop and would tell me how much he enjoyed sharing the ruby sweet beauties with them.
This story may not sound extraordinary to most but for me it was a miraculous time in my life. Let me tell you about my family’s history so you can have some insight into why this was so important to me. My father was a first generation Russian immigrant who was raised in the lower East Side of Manhattan and had to work for his family starting at the age of twelve when his father died. Hard work was what he knew all his life. He and his younger brother opened a men’s store, Todd’s, and worked six days a week morning to night. On Sunday he was really exhausted and would rest, read the papers, listen to the radio and other things that were relaxing for him. My mother would often instruct my sister and I to “let your father rest, he works very hard“ and so we did.
Needless to say there was not much opportunity for close interactions between us when I was a child and it wasn’t until I was an adult and my father retired from his work that we began sharing warm and connected moments together. I can still see him, watering hose in hand, gentling spraying each and every plant. Our love of gardening and our crops became a bond that I treasure to this day! Even now, I often wish I could show him a particularly handsome vegetable I grew and I hope he can see it wherever he might be
Although I no longer cry over the loss of my father these many years later, I felt tears sting my eyes as I looked at the label that read Ramapo. I bought two trays and they will be planted in honor of my Daddy, the man I had the good fortune to get to know and love in his later years.
Wishing everyone who is a beloved father, has a fine father or had one, a Happy Father’s Day! Enjoy every moment and treasure the happy memories!