NOTE: This piece was written 29 years ago and is being shared today in honor of my father, Charles James O’Connor, Jr. who read and appreciated the essay when it was published. Dad passed away a few years ago, short of his 92nd birthday. This is also for three special young women—Dusty, Bonnie and Shannon—who carry my heart with them always. —M.O.
I force my foot down on the shovel which splits the newly softened earth. My daughter and I have been watering this spot for a week. The careful preparation is paying huge dividends for one of our tired backs. The abandoned furniture, busted fence and stubborn weeds have all been cleared from this ten by twenty-foot patch of land to the east of our house, commonly known as “the side yard”.
I manage to dislodge a hunk of clay that looks as if it hasn’t seen the light of day since before the Stone Age—or at least the Truman administration. “This is dirt from my backyard”, I mumble to no one in particular. I’m not sure if I’m more amazed at the sight of dirt on my hands or from the words “my backyard” crossing my lips.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I’m not exactly a backyard kind of guy. My idea of a journey to the great outdoors is packing the family in the van and heading off to Dodger Stadium. If I decide to live a little dangerously, I might stop and find out how much the scalpers are charging for the really good seats. As an adventurer, I wouldn’t know Marlin Perkins from Marlon Brando.
To me the backyard has always been the place where the trash is stored until garbage day. It’s a field which requires occasional watering, mowing, and once-a-year raking. I suppose I have always associated a back yard with the sense of duty. Why this is I am not altogether sure. But I have often wondered why people fuss so over their prize petunias and rustic rose bushes. Some actually talk to their azaleas as if cooing to a newborn: “Does my planty-wanty want more water-otter?”
Good grief! Can’t those Better Homes and Gardens types get a life? When I’m President, my first official act will be to pass a national bill requiring mandatory Astroturf installation over any plant with whom anyone is on a first name basis. Where’s a congressman when you need one?
This introductory exposition is my simple way of sharing the relative unimportance the process of photosynthesis has thus far played in my life.