Edwin Ross Calder works in his vegetable garden in Skowhegan in the 1990s. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Dad was right all along.

One of the most important things we can do as human beings is plant a vegetable garden.

And show someone else how to do the same.

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in Skowhegan, a garden was so much a part of my life that whenever I remember my childhood, the garden is front and center in my mind.

Dad grew a garden every year. He was up before any of us kids opened an eye, and was in the garden, planting, weeding and tending.

We had corn, peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, carrots, cucumbers, onions, beets and as the years wore on, more luxurious items such as asparagus.

Besides his artwork, playing golf, tossing a baseball and cooking, my father’s favorite pastime was working in the garden, nurturing it, watering it and watching it grow. When he got into his 80s, he’d set a lawn chair beside the garden and, in the evenings, just sit and admire it.

When we were little, we would snatch a tomato here or a carrot there, sit on the lawn and consume it like it was candy. One day, feeling brazen and wanting to show off to our friends, I fetched a salt shaker from the kitchen, pulled an onion from the garden and consumed it heartily. I never acknowledged it burned my throat to a pulp.

We were proud of Dad’s garden, which he moved around each year to a slightly different site in the field, but it was always visible enough from the road. Our neighbors admired it too, and said so.

After the lettuce and radishes, the peas were the first thing he harvested, plucking a few pods and taking them in to show my mother.

“Look at this,” he’d say, beaming.

We relished those sweet peas, steamed and slathered with hot butter or tossed cold in a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. Mom would freeze batches of peas and they’d grace our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables along with other vegetables from the garden.

We had pickles and pickled beets in the winter, as my mother put them up soon after they were picked. She kept them in a small, cool closet off the dining room where she shelved all her preserves, including jams and jellies.

Dad was so garden-oriented that he made me laugh aloud when Mick Jagger performed at halftime during the 2006 Super Bowl.

As we watched the aging singer gyrate and run around the stage, my father was silent at first.

“Whos’ that guy?” he asked.

“That’s Mick Jagger, Dad,” I said, barely able to contain a laugh.

“Geez,” he said. “I’ll bet he’s never planted a tomato in his life!”

I think of that and other memories as I plan and plant my gardens each spring, Dad’s voice always in my head as I harvest, prepare a meal with fresh veggies or freeze my tomato sauce.

The way I see it, for all the good work that we put into a garden, we reap threefold the benefits.

There’s nothing better or more healthful than being able to nourish our bodies with what we have grown.

My father has been gone 10 years now. I am thankful for many things he taught me, but gardening rates right up there at the top.

On Father’s Day on Sunday, as I admire my small gardens, I will think of him and smile.

It was more difficult, the first few years after his death, to go about the day as others celebrated their fathers. But as more time passes, he seems closer than ever.

I can see him clear as day now, bent over in the green rows, the morning mist all around, quiet in his reverie.

For him, every day in the garden was a happy father’s day.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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