Thursday, June 4, 2009

gardens for Greg

(Because who doesn't love a good alliteration?)

Myself (age 3), my baby sister Mindy, and our dog, Sasha, all loving our dad. just outside the gate to our garden in Kennewick, Washington. Summer, 1977.

Today is the 5th anniversary of my Dad's death.

Greg Frandsen died on June 4, 2004, of a cancer that invaded his brain stem. One doctor he consulted theorized it may have been growing in there his whole life, since it is almost exclusively a childhood cancer, the useless cells intercalating into the healthy tissue until finally the balance tipped away from function. He was slowly robbed of the beautifully functioning body he had cultivated with an active life, clean living (we're Mormons and take our health code seriously), and lots of good food, much of which he grew himself. We were all angry (the cancer theme of the week) that his healthy lifestyle choices hadn't protected him (cancer novices then, we were not accustomed to the sweeping, impersonal cruelty of disease).

Now, we've decided to believe that his good livin' kept Daddy with us as long as we had him. The first specialist he mailed his MRIs to asked, "Is this man still walking?" Yup! A couple of months before, Nathan and I had gone with him and my sister Camie on a 3-day backpacking trip high into the heart of the Tetons.

Dad and his girls
The four of us & the view from "the Wall", July 2000

He kept shaking his head, with a "Vali, I'm getting old. I just can't hike like I used to." I remember he said something about it when I caught him here, resting in a meadow.At the time of diagnosis, my father was still fully involved with everything in his crazy life. An executive for a DOE contractor, he was making groundbreaking efforts to coordinate national plans to safely dispose of nuclear waste in a cooperative manner (his great ideas got him lots of national awards, but then a change in national administration swept them away. Stupid politics). He was also the bishop of our local church congregation, and wholeheartedly involved in the lives of his seven children (I'm the oldest; 3 were then still at home) and beloved wife. His unusual fatigue, which our family doctor kept attributing to nearing age 50 and being so busy, finally led to the MRI. The spread of the cancer in his brain stem and spinal cord should have been more debilitating at that point, but Daddy was still strong. He fought a good fight, but cancer's march is too often inexorable, and my daddy died at home three years later. He was 53.

Today, new landowners, our family planted our first garden, and I got to tell my girls about working in the garden with their grandpa.
Audrey, age 2, picking apples with Grandpa Greg.

So many of my memories of my dad are of yard work together, and somehow my dad worked it right: I place high value on growing, and have craved a garden of my own ever since. I kill houseplants with abandon, but somehow I think I can pull this one off. We're starting small (Nathan assembled the raised bed this morning), but excitement was high from all participants. Wish us luck. Garden, grow!

(Cancer cells, stop.)
Dad working the earth in our Kennewick garden.
Brothers Devn and Justin, Dad, sister Mindy, Valerie. Showing off our potato harvest, 1984

Grapes! Valerie, neighbor Tanya DeCoursey, Mindy, Daddy, Devn. Kennewick, 1980.
Another potato shot, with our new garden in the potato state. Dad, brother Jeffrey, Camie, Justin. Idaho Falls, ID, 1992.
A rare beard year. Dad with the sunflowers and beans, 1996.

Another bearded man I adore mixing our purchased (!) soil in the rain this morning (had to get the plants in before we left a'hospitaling this weekend). We're starting out small.
Audrey carefully sewing Swiss chard (do you think, with such ownership, she'll actually eat it ?).
Marian shoveling a spot for the cilantro (She rolled up her pants at school and now wants me to cut them into shorts. Stylista there. Especially with the polkadotted knee highs).
We won't let Reuben play yet.
Marian resting after a collision with her sister. Audrey was climbing the fence and suddenly there were tears. All Nathan and I saw were two girls collide over the fence and fling backwards, each on their respective backs. Just like in the cartoons. We suppressed our laughter for at least a minute. See? She was eventually fine.


Kate said...

I love it! Your tribute to your dad is so sweet. Audrey is beautiful. Marian looks so healthy. Reuben is so precious. You will all be OK - I can feel it. Thanks for sharing your heart with us.

mla said...

i hate posting on this bloody impersonal computer but i've been wanting to talk to your voice all day (voicemail left for you on the home # check it later)but you were busy doing good work! thinking so much of you, let's talk soon!your writing makes me cry- and realize how much i miss ya'll- kisses to all!

Mary Anne said...

Your dad must be smiling big and watching over you all right now. Old pain, new life, timeless love. I love all the connected themes in this tribute.

sgraham said...

Awesome! I love that the whole clan was involved in the planting. Your dad is in heaven smiling.

nweames said...

Wonderful tribute, I wish I met your dad.

So exciting to get a garden and fresh veggies. If you get your kids to eat swiss chard you are better than us. The herbs, however, are a big hit! When I grew them last year Brandon said I had to grow them every year.

sallyavena said...

And so it gets passed on. A garden is something I crave as well and I think it's for the same reason. I feel conected to the past generation that taught me how and a hope for the future as they learn the beauty of working hard and reaping what you sow.
It must be a hard week for you emotionally. Hugs your way.

Braden said...

Oh Val, I hope to merit a similar post someday from one of my children. If I do, I will have lived a good and useful life. Beautifully done. You are an amazingly evocative writer.

Meg said...

What a wonderful written tribute to your dad, and that you got to talk about him today while planting your own garden. Mine to is small, but it has already brought nice memories.

Anonymous said...

Such a touching tribute.

The family garden. In a increasingly urbanized and technologically insulating world, perhaps the one sure way to reach back to our agrarian heritage, to instill the faith of fathers, that planting a seed, with hard work, results in something worth waiting for whether tasty vegetables or well-grounded children.


Chris and Lisa said...

I've not been on a computer much lately (blast the old kitchen cabinets we're trying to repaint!) so I had a lot to catch up on. I love to read your writing, even though it makes me cry!! Love to read about the gardening-our kids love to pick out their own things to plant - fun times for all.

cfm said...

oh tears...this is a perfect tribute. I too have started my own garden...a little 5X6 plot...thoughts of family garden time fill my heart whenever I am out there--it's funny with my limited knowledge I am the expert amongst my lucky we were to have that man!