My papa was a great old man. I can see him with a shovel in his hand. — Clarence Carter
They didn’t call me “Patches” when I was young (why, I don’t know), but I can see my father with a shovel in his hand, and he was a great old man. November 25th is/was his birthday. If he were still alive, he would be 87 today. He died just after Christmas in 1990. I was working in Appleton, Wisconsin at the time and flew down to New Orleans for the funeral in January. Upon my return, I was fired. 1991 was getting off to a good start.
For as long as I can remember, my dad always had a garden, a vegetable garden, with okra and tomatoes mostly, and whatever he felt like adding in any given year: bell peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc. Whence the shovel, which, as I got older, was more often in my hand than his. He was the one who liked okra and tomatoes, but, somehow, it was me who got to do all the digging and weeding. For years I dreamed of escaping from the gumbo plantation and making my way along the suburban white kid’s underground railroad to store-bought food and freedom. Which I eventually did. Funny thing, though. One day, at the ripe age of 30, I finally got married and bought a house with a nice little side yard that just cried out for — a garden! Ever since, I’ve grown okra and tomatoes just like the old man; and some day my kids will remember me, I hope, with a shovel in my hand.