by Maria Ruiz
In 1947, Dad was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas. He bought a house in Junction City with an empty lot next door. Here, he dug, planted, seeded and tended a vegetable garden, fifteen feet wide by twenty feet long. He lovingly watched as his corn, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, potatoes and squash plants came up. Every night, after work, he would pull the hose out and walking up and down the rows, would water his little jewels.
Being seven years old, I would help him untangle the hose as he watered. One morning I woke with a plan to help Dad. I had observed how water would travel in a ditch, turning corners, always following the ditch. I would surprise Dad by digging small ditches along the rows, back and forth. Dad would only need to put the hose down at the top row and the water would creep by each plant.
I got the shovel down from the nail in the garage wall and began my work. I dug shallow ditches down the first row and stepped back to admire my work. It seemed my ditches were too far from the plant stem so I adjusted my ditch to run up against each stem. I circled every little plant in the ditch. Every time I dug down, I noticed little white strings coming out from the plants but I brushed each and every one away.
It took several hours to dig the ditches. By the time I got to the corn I had to dig deeper so the water would run down smoothly. I stood up and was satisfied with my system. Dad would be so pleased.
I spent the rest of the day playing with friends and time passed quickly. By late afternoon I went in to wait for Dad’s return. I listened for his car, planning on running out to show him how he could easily water every loved plant. Finally, I heard the car turn into the drive way. I heard the car door slam and Dad yelling loudly. “What happened to my garden?” Followed by words I wasn’t allowed to repeat. I couldn’t imagine what the problem was as I ran out, with Mom and my sisters close at my heels to behold, each and every plant lying on the ground. Leaves were wilted and turning up in agony, only matched by the look on my father’s face.
I cried with amazement and mumbled out the words. “I dug you a ditch so you wouldn’t have to water by hand. You could just let the water run.” I ran back to the house in tears.
Later, a very quiet Dad came into my bedroom. “Mary, I appreciate what you did. Could you come out with me, please?” He led me back to the garden, where he quietly and patiently gave me my first lesson about plants and roots. It was a lesson I never forgot.