My earliest memories are of my dad, Ben, coming home from work and sitting with me in our backyard family garden. I was three that spring, and had plans to plant a my own radish patch.
Even after all the decades, I still recall Ben’s tall figure, friendly face, neat mustache and wavy brown hair. After greeting me with a hug, he’d settle into a garden chair. He’d then put me on his knee and tell tales of how he grew up on a ranch in the wild west.
There were cattle drives, battles with bandits, rides with cowboys and starlit campfires. I learned later they were fibs told by an immigrant who came to America from Prussia as a child. Ben had never been west of Pittburgh. Nevertheless, when I heard him tell his tales, I happily believed every word.
Radishes are the quickest vegetables to grow, a task just right for an almost-four-year-old. Under my dad’s watchful eye, I sowed the seeds in late April and carefully watered them every afternoon.
My dad would stop by daily, admire my skills, and comment on the rich green leaves as they emerged. My requests for wild west stories were always granted, making our time together full of imagination and wonder.
In early summer when the red root vegetables were ripening, my dad stopped visiting. I tearfully asked my mom why he didn’t want to be with me anymore. She said he was sick and in bed for a couple of days. She assured me he’d visit my radish patch again just as soon as he recovered.
As the weeks went by, I was allowed to see him briefly daily in his bedroom. At first he’d ask about my radish patch and promise to come again soon, but later he was silent, as if asleep. My dad didn’t recover.
After several months, Benjamin Sherman died of a kidney disease in 1929 at age 34, long before antibiotics could have cured him. He left my mom penniless with three fatherless kids during America’s Great Depression.
The eternal questions: Could he have been more careful with his health and avoided the fatal illness? Did he fail by leaving his widow and children destititute? However, through the decades, instead of anger, I feel only a sad wish of what could have been our lives together.
When my own kids were growing up, we planted radishes among other vegetables in our backyard garden. Even today, whenever I see a bunch of those bright red vegetables, I’m reminded of my dad and those too brief, wonderful moments we spent together in my radish patch.