I was talking with Awesome Dad on the phone recently about his upcoming relocation to the wilds of Southwestern Idaho. We got on the subject of yardwork, so I recounted a conversation I'd had with my younger brother Chuck back in 2005, mere months before his passing.
Chuck had taken seriously ill with a failed liver, was fighting a devastating blood infection and in the final throes of his battle with alcohol. He'd recently moved into a small cottage in the city of Paradise, California (same city as Mom and Dad) where he'd lived since 1979, and we were talking about his new pad.
Me: "So, dude... you gonna hire someone to do the yards?"
Him: "Well, I made a deal with the landlord and he agreed to take $100 a month off my rent if I keep the lawns mowed and raked."
Me: "Ummmm... are you sure you're strong enough right now to take on that kind of physical labor?"
Him: "Of course I'm strong enough... I'm not a pussy, you know."
Me: "But Chuck... you've never done any meaningful yardwork in your entire life."
Him: "Phhhht... it's easy, anyone could do these yards."
Me: "BUT CHUCK... you don't have The Yardwork Gene like Dad and me, and you know it."
Him: "Yeah... well... it's no big deal, I'll take care of it."
Upon hearing my story, Dad says "Well, you KNOW who wound up doing his yards, don't you?"
We both laughed at that and the idea of Chuck EVER doing yardwork of any kind, mostly because we miss him so much. And yes, it was Dad that did his yards, because Dad has The Yardwork Gene and Chuck never did.
The reason I mention all this is because the image at the top of this essay, of that lovely home surrounded by trees and greenery and verdant lawn... that image was taken by Dad after he'd done his yards for the final time before the new owners would take possession of the house and Mom and Dad would move out and be gone after living there for 35 years.
What's important to note is this house, surrounded by trees and greenery and verdant lawn, is located in Paradise, California. Yes, THAT Paradise, the same city that only last November was devastated by the horrific Camp Fire that destroyed 90% of the homes and 70% of the businesses and resulted in over 80 people losing their lives. The population dropped from 29,000 inhabitants to less than 3,000... you can't buy gasoline anywhere because the stations all burned down... the sound of dump trucks and bulldozers and chainsaws echo up there on the ridge six days a week now... you never even hear a barking dog at night because everyone is gone.
Even though their home was spared and insurance covered the moderate repairs that were needed, Mom and Dad decided to sell because their friends... their community... their way of life... all the things they knew and loved about Paradise are now gone. The city may eventually recover, but they ain't waiting around for it.
For 35 years, Dad was the sole groundskeeper for his acre of nature, dubbed 'Descano (means 'relaxation') Gardens' because they lived on Descanso Lane. Over the decades, he mowed and raked and trimmed and planted and weeded and fertilized and landscaped and trenched and filled and leveled and seeded and raked and raked and raked and... well, you get he idea. The lot was dotted with huge pines and California Redwoods. He dismantled a horse stable, built a stone-lined babbling brook across the rear part of his property, built a greenhouse and workshop, and created an outdoor haven for parties and gatherings that became legendary in that bucolic mountain burg.
He even built a small memorial area off to the side of the property where Chuck's ashes were stashed, a lovely little spot with a small bench under the trees where'd I'd play my guitar for Chuck.
Even now, almost a year after burning to the ground, there are still some properties in Paradise that look like this:
In fact, the image of Dad's (now) former home is misleading, because although the fire leaped over and spared the house and the front yards, it scorched the property out back, taking out his workshop and greenhouse, completely burning down some of the huge trees so badly that the roots burned right out of the ground, leaving giant holes in the dirt.
Dad and I talked about his final day of yardwork on Descanso Lane, and I asked him how he felt about it. His answer surprised me.
He said "Honestly, Son... I'm actually very relieved. This property has been a lot of work, especially over the last few years, and it's taken a lot to keep up with it. I'm glad to have enjoyed such a beautiful place to live, but I'll be happy never to have to clean up that huge yard again."
Did I mention that Dad will be 84 years old this year?
Dad has The Yardwork Gene... typical Mexican.
I have The Yardwork Gene. Don't judge.
As a kid growing up in La Puente, my weekly allowance was predicated on the completion of tasks that included washing dishes every night, keeping the house clean, washing Dad's truck every week and (you guessed it) doing the yardwork. I enjoyed it, to be honest... I even rolled the lawnmower up and down our street, offering to mow the neighbors' lawns for a few bucks. It was a natural part of growing up.
I feel like doing the yards is a foundation of my adult-ness.
These days, I usually trim and mow every other weekend, and I find myself getting antsy mid-week and looking forward to opening the garage door on Saturday mornings and spending a couple of hours weeding and trimming and raking and mowing my little patch of greenery. I used to wear my ipod Nano while working but now enjoy the ambient sounds of my labor, feeling more connected to the world around me, smelling the raked gardens and cut grass and wet pavement when I wash everything down.
Once the yards are done, I always have a lookie from across the street because Pride of Ownership, amirite? It's not the largest or fanciest or best landscaped yard on the block, but it's ours and we've loved it for over 27 years.
Less than a quarter (prolly fewer) of the homeowners in my 'hood do their own yards, opting instead to pay a fleet of Mexican gardeners who descend en masse with their implements of destruction and leave nothing but trimmed edges and hedges and smooth lawns in their wake.
I truly appreciate those Mexican gardeners who work so hard, seven days a week, making our neighborhood beautiful, Making America Great like only hardworking people can (Eat The Rich). I see whole families working those yards, sometimes even with tiny kids dragging a mini-rake or broom around, not really working but pretending to help Mom and Dad earn their keep. Those little kids are the ones who learn early to appreciate their parent's efforts to keep them housed and clothed and fed in a country that needs them to grow up happy, healthy and strong.
Now that Mom and Dad are officially gone from Descanso Lane, I'll miss making the 9-hour drive into Northern California, a drive I've made countless times since 1975.
I'll miss sitting in Chuck's Place, strumming my guitar and thinking about him and how he influenced me in so many ways.
I'll miss hanging outside with Mom and Dad and The Artist, sitting under the shady arbor, talking and laughing and just being together.
I'll miss simply walking around Dad's property, seeing his latest efforts to upgrade or change or just clean up, marveling at his ability to do so much work and keep it all looking so great in a natural, unaffected way.
I hope that I can keep doing my yards with the same joy that I do today. I hope I never get tired or bored with raking and trimming and mowing and sweeping, because when I do all of those things, I feel closer to Awesome Dad.
The guy that gifted me with The Yardwork Gene.
Paradise house image, Gracias de Manuel A. Macias, Jr.; Paradise burned image, Gracias de sacramentobee.com; Mission Viejo house image por El Autor; Suburban Lawns 'Janitor' video, Gracis de youtube.com.