In My Opinion

A hatful of ponderings

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

I inherited my father’s gardening hat, a gift ordered from a specialty store by his first-born granddaughter and her husband.

It’s a good hat, made of cool and comfortable straw, with soft but sturdy chin straps to secure it in a breeze — or through a summer weeding war.

My father hardly wore it.

He belonged to a generation that replaced only the unfixable, and although he was not immune to American-style consumerism — we all had to endure trips to horrible restaurants he saw lusciously advertised on television — my father thought this hat was too good for his daily sweaty chores in the backyard.

His old hat still had plenty of mojo left; he would save this one for tomorrow.

After he died from congestive heart failure in March, my mother offered me the hat, and I snatched it right out of her hands. I sidelined my old one — as they say, “at the drop of a hat” — and began wearing the better one right away.

I’m from the generation that birthed the upgrade.

We live on the fast lane of that contemporary deal on new stuff we can’t refuse and feed our excess on the doomsday scenario that it may not be there tomorrow, a trait handed down from our refugee parents whose fortunes were turned upside down by a misguided social revolution.

Our motto: Purchase on sale today.

Things can always get worse, we know.

We remember the early 1980s and its 13 percent mortgage rates and 18 percent car financing deals. We remember farther back to the 1960s and 70s when our parents chose exile, and although memory fades, we can’t forget the day the milicianos in olive green fatigues arrived at our homes to inventory and confiscate our parents’ hard-earned goods so that they could not be handed down to relatives remaining on the island.

We overcompensate the fears and the losses with garages so full of stuff there’s hardly room for the car.

I ponder all this, and more (outrageous insurance hikes, √boleterogate, hazardous running mates) as I weed, mow, and trim, all the while talking to my father in my head as sweat drips under our prized hat.

Now I’m glad that while others in my neighborhood hired landscape architects to create oases, my father planted everything but one tree in my backyard.

The result was a rustic and funky mix, but every planting stood for something and is a memory I hang on to as if it were a life raft: The fertile plantain trees sprouted from an “ hijo” we bought at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The sea grape came from a stump he grew from his own tree, a reminder of our blue Varadero beach where they were plentiful. The red hibiscus came from a sprig he took from a friend’s backyard in Sanibel, grew into a gorgeous flowering plant, and from a sprig of that, he nurtured mine.

It’s a yard grown like a family, a plant-child at a time, and it is there, working among the butterflies, that I most feel his presence.

I laugh at our arguments over the row of climbing bougainvillea he and my brother planted along my back fence on a long ago birthday.

I wanted the multicolored paper flowers to grow wild. He thought they should be reined in with proper roping and trimming.

Plants need to be guided and disciplined, he would say.

Like a child, I would think, like he raised me, the tyrant!

I remember him whispering to the plants as he tried to impose his will on nature.

¿Fuercecita conmigo, eh?” (Strong-arm tactics with me, eh?) he’d say when he faced a particularly stubborn branch.

I winced then, but now I heed his advice about trimming back at least some of the excess, and with my fancy equipment, I tackle the overgrowth as I ponder if going without home insurance and saving the premiums for repairs is an option in the long-run, if the powers-that-be have the political courage to extend the boletero investigation to other communities because don’t we all suspect/know that it’s not a practice limited to Hialeah or to the Cubans?

When I return inside from my backyard stints proud of my newfound abilities with the weed whacker and less certain about the rest of the world, I’m drenched in sweat and my head is spinning with newfound philosophies.

I like to think that my father is laughing his heart out in triumph because, finally, I’ve cashed in on my inheritance, embraced the mysterious power of gardening, and learned the value of a good hat.

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