100: The Shrubbery Massacre

100: The Shrubbery Massacre

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Shrubbery Massacre

Weed ’em and reap.

~Author Unknown

Fathers may have all kinds of virtues, but usually there is one great virtue that defines who they are. For some fathers it might be a love of the outdoors that they pass on, or just plain toughness. My father possesses more virtues than this story can contain, but he has one virtue that is truly great — forgiveness.

I was not an easy boy to raise. I was born in the lying down position, and as far as I was concerned, that was my natural state — lying down, and certainly not doing physical labor. In this way I was the opposite of my father.

My father has worked physically demanding jobs his whole life. Not only that, but while working these physically demanding jobs, he’d been running a landscaping business on the side. As his only son, I was conscripted into landscaping against my will.

I may have set a world record for whining as a child. I didn’t complain all the time. In fact, I was a very happy kid. Except for when labor was thrown into the mix. My dad would take me with him to rake someone’s lawn, or haul away a brush pile, and I would complain nearly the whole time. But did he ever give up on getting me to work? No.

When I went off to college, only forty-five minutes from my parents’ house, I would work for my dad on the weekends. It was during one such weekend in the spring that the calamity happened.

As a part of my general disdain for physical labor, I’ve never liked gardening. Especially weeding. Unfortunately, this was often what was asked of me, since the more skilled gardening tasks such as planting bushes, trees, and flowers, required my father’s extraordinary green thumb. Now, if there is a job I do not want to do, I tend to rush through it as quickly as possible in order to get it over with. This proved to be a big mistake.

My father had asked me to weed a horribly overgrown flowerbed in front of a client’s house. I sighed when I got to the job site, because I could see a few nice looking lilies surrounded by a wreck of tangled undergrowth, and strangely well-rooted weeds.

I went to work with fervor, using an axe and a shovel when I had to. I hacked and dug all around the lilies. I was saturated with sweat, and coated in dirt and woodchips, but I was exultant. I had conquered the tenacious weeds, hacked them to pieces and dug them out of the earth. But I had a funny feeling. Should I have stopped and questioned why the roots were so tough? I called my dad.

After a brief question and answer session, my error became apparent: I had just axe-murdered about twenty-five shrubs. Shrubs my father had planted the previous year. Once he told me what I’d done, I winced and awaited a tongue-lashing. I’d just weeded the entirely wrong area, and undone hours of his painstaking labor. But do you know what he did? He just laughed, long and hard. Let me tell you, that made the painful process of replanting them, which I did immediately to the best of my ability, easier.

My father is sixty-four now, and is still in better shape than I, at half his age, thanks to his non-stop physical activity. I certainly did not inherit his tolerance for physical labor. But what I hope I inherited is one of his greatest gifts, the ability to forgive, and maybe even laugh a little.

~Ron Kaiser, Jr.

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