The Garden of Him

[On Saturday, January 25th, David’s beloved dad, Manny, died after a tough battle with mesothelioma and congestive heart failure. All of us at LC are deeply saddened. To honor the man who taught David so much, we’re rerunning his Father’s Day essay about Papa Leite.–ed.]

Papa Leite

My father is a good man. Just ask my mother. Actually, if you spend enough time with her, she’ll tell you anyway, blurting it out while watching TV or holding out a bag of mini Milky Way bars to you. “Manny Leite’s a good man,” she’ll say.

The measure of a good man is calculated by many yardsticks. For my father, it was being a provider. It began with a home. First with a floor, eventually covered in the lightest of oak—“Only three-quarter-inch will do,” he’d say—that supported us, two-by-fours that became walls that surrounded us, and, finally, a roof that protected us—all built with his own hands.

Then there was sustenance. He cut a garden from what has to be God’s rockiest half-acre, situated behind our house. A grape arbor appeared first. Beneath it, we lingered over many long, lazy meals, just we three. Plump bunches of grapes hung heavily, and my father would pluck some and feed them to my mother. The shaded table grew crowded with our expanding family my father brought over from the Azores. First my grandfather, then my uncle, my aunt, another aunt, and finally my grandmother and the youngest aunt of all. And, in time, their spouses and later their kids gathered round. It was understood back then that this half-acre was on loan: It was meant for me, my wife, and my children—a family that would never come to be.

A small vegetable garden replaced the arbor, way back in the ’60s when my father’s shovel was taller than me. A few parallel lines of plants I can’t remember. But as my father came to understand that I would never live there, that my future lay somewhere else—somewhere I wasn’t so asthmatic, wheezing at the confines of a small New England town—the plot grew, and he weeded more rocks from it. Enough rocks to make a wall around the side of the property. He planted tomatoes, onions bigger than softballs, waxy long red peppers, big bouquets of satiny-looking kale, corn with its incessant hissing of leaves in the wind, and potatoes. Always potatoes. My father loves potatoes. I love my father’s potatoes.

We had little in common, my father and I. Oh, we were similar in some ways. We didn’t like sports, and neither of us ever delved much into books. And, of course, we shared values and morals. How could we not? They were his and my mother’s, and they taught me well. But left alone, he and I didn’t have much to say to each other. How many times did my mother elbow me: “Go outside and help your father.” I’d pull back the lacy curtain to see him, the rototiller bronco-bucking in his hands, tearing up the earth for another year’s worth of vegetables. Or snapping suckers off tomatoes. Or tying up the grapevines that had come to take up half of the half-acre.

I wanted nothing to do with that work. It was manual labor. It was also Manuel’s Labor. I was convinced it wasn’t work meant for me. “I’m going to hire someone to do this when I get older,” I would tell my father, after I was forced by my mother to help lift rocks into the barrow and wheel them, weaving as if I was plastered, to the growing stone wall. He’d wince and shake his head. I thought he was being judgmental, even smug, but my father isn’t a smug person. I see now he was wounded that I didn’t find value in what he held so sacred.

Gardening wasn’t a luxury for my father when he was growing up. It was survival. Back in the Old Country, if you didn’t garden, you didn’t eat. Small squares of land, no bigger than our front cement porch, would have to supply a family of seven. I think he always held the fear of going hungry again.

I don’t know what it was that seized me this year to want to create a big garden. I’m a lousy gardener. But there I was, overseeing the construction of four huge raised beds. Annoying J.D., the carpenter, with my constant comments, my million little adjustments. Aggravating Ron, the yard guy, with questions about exactly how organic his organic soil was. Bullying The One into planting the rows the way I wanted them—the way I remembered my father planting his.

What I’ve never told The One in 23 years is that I understand plants far better than I’ve let on. For two or three summers beginning when I was 13, my parents sent me to work on a farm as a way of, hopefully, combating what we later learned was terrible depression. I’ve never copped to my understanding so I could avoid work. But there I was, standing in front of three beds The One and I had planted, a fourth waiting to be seeded, and I felt something. I felt something of my father in me.

It was the potatoes, my father’s potatoes that he gave me to plant, that did it. I had fantasized they were potatoes that had been in our family for 25, maybe 30 years. But their lineage goes back only a few years. I began calling him, asking how deep and how far apart should I plant them, sending photograph after photograph, asking for the precise places to cut through the tubers so I could maximize my yield. The thought that in about 75 days I would be eating potatoes that were related to those from that half-acre of rocks back home moved me something fierce. And it filled me with awe and guilt and closeness. I blubbered on the phone, eyes nearly swollen shut, snot running down my face, a knot burning a hole through my throat as I spoke to my father. I felt connected to this good man. I began to appreciate the lure of the garden, understand the pleasures he found among the plants. Unlike writing, my trade, whose harvest at the end of the day is never guaranteed, gardening always promises something. There is no such thing as gardener’s block. Nothing wishy-washy, no doubt or self-recriminations. You plant, you hoe, you feed, you weed, you harvest.

When I go out to the garden, I think of my father. It’s a contemplative time when I hoe my worries, weed my discontent. I wonder what my father used to mull over when he was alone in his garden when I was younger. The strange sadness and fear that gripped me? My possibly being gay? My imminent departure, “as soon as I turn eighteen, just you watch,” which I never ceased to remind him of? I’ve never asked. A man should be allowed his mystery. Each morning, bent over these beds, I marvel at how the broccoli has shot up another three inches. How two or three more shoots from my father’s potatoes have wormed their way up through the soil. How the tomatoes need, yet again, to be staked because they grew so quickly. How the cucumber tendrils and leaves must be woven through the fence as they climb, creating an eventual wall of green.

Yes, my father is a good man. Not so much because he has been a good provider. He proved that long ago. But because he holds no resentment that it has taken me 40 years to come around to the simple act of following in his muddy footsteps. I frantically, obsessively want to know what he knows, because his garden, which at one time crowded out the backyard, grows smaller each year. It’s now a mere two rows, as long as I am tall. A few potato plants, fewer tomatoes, and even fewer peppers. I want, no, I need so much for my father’s spirit and his thrill of the garden to live on in me. I have no child or legacy. This garden is the closest he will ever get to a grandchild. Or to something that, though not spun from his DNA, descends directly from him.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

Originally published June 20, 2015

David Leite's signature



  1. What? No favas? Thank you for this lovely reminder of my Portuguese family’s garden. A few vegetables and ALWAYS fruit trees. And hot summer days cooling off beneath the shade of the fig tree.

    Happy Thanksgiving, David.


    1. Karletta, actually, thank you! He did grow favas. But it was many, many years ago when I still lived at home.

      I wish you and yours a wonderful, safe, and happy Thanksgiving! xoxo

  2. Inspiring. Great article, loved it. Also reminds me of my old man. He inspired my brother and I to continue the family legacy of running our hardscaping business. I hope you find peace in everything you do, and continue to be the best you can.

  3. Again, what a beautiful tribute. I hope you find peace/comfort in your heart when you feel your Dad’s Love and spirit. Losing a parent is such a difficult journey, as a wise person advised me once ” just weave it in and out of your life “. Please take time/moments to take care of yourself. And plant potatoes in honor of you Dad :)

  4. Thank you for sharing your father in this beautiful, moving way. I am so sorry for your loss, and grateful to read about him and think about him, family, living this life. Your story is a garden of good things, ideas and images that I get to harvest and enjoy! This one jumped out at me : “…Unlike writing, my trade, whose harvest at the end of the day is never guaranteed, gardening always promises something. There is no such thing as gardener’s block. Nothing wishy-washy, no doubt or self-recriminations. You plant, you hoe, you feed, you weed, you harvest…” Loved meeting your dad here, or rather meeting him and your mom again after Notes on a Banana. Wonderful. I feel so lucky that you find the words. It is a great joy to read your work always. My father has been gone ten years now, and I miss him deeply. My condolences to you and your mom and all the people who loved him and will miss him. To a good life, and good harvests, and potatoes! You’ve got me eyeing the one long raised bed in my side yard, neglected. I may spend a little time and energy there this year and see how that goes.

    1. Nancie, thank you so much for your kind and comforting words. Now that the funeral is over, I’m just comprehending the impact my dad had on folks’ lives. Literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people came to express their condolences and regale me with stories of my father. It was such a healing and transformative experience. I can only hope to be a fraction of the gentleman mh dad was.

  5. Such a moving tribute to your father. My sincere condolences to you and your family. I have a small patio in back and a ‘bootleg garden’ in front of my townhouse. I grow mostly herbs, but my friend gave me some couve tronchuda from the Azores. There is a pleasure in gardening, and your garden will always keep your father close to you.

  6. So very sorry for your loss. Lessons learned sometimes take ages to be realized. Your dad must have been thrilled with all the questions and photos of your garden.

  7. Dear David–

    So very sorry for your loss. Your dad, Manny, sounds like he was a soulmate of my late dad, Manny! What wonderful men they seem to grow on São Miguel. My dad and yours selflessly devoted themselves to their gardens, their loved ones, and their communities. We are all the richer for them and their example. God bless them, and you and your mother at this very sad time.

    Jeanne Medeiros

  8. How beautiful! And those thoughts can only come from a beautiful person. I’m sure your father saw that in you too. May he rest in peace

  9. My Sister texted me about your Father’s passing on Saturday. David, please accept my deepest sympathies, prayers for your Mom, you and family during this time of grief. So happy to know that you Dad could read your Father’s Day essay. Touching and Loving. Your parents have blessed my life in just knowing them. Having moved away, I miss them much. I had to go back up North for a family funeral, I went to church and saw your folks! Glad I did! I miss them much. My prayer too, is comfort for your Mom, she is going to miss your Dad a lot. But, as she would say, she will see him again one day.

    My heart aches, as I am sure yours does too. Keeping you all in prayer. Blessings and Comfort to you all.

    1. Cheryl, thank you so much for writing. It means so much. And please let me extend my condolences to you on your recent loss. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  10. How special that you wrote this for your Father while he was here to be touched by it. So often we wait and then it is too late so share, Bless him, your Mother and you.

  11. I was so utterly moved by your essay on your dad. I too needed time to appreciate some of the gifts my dad passed on to me because we were so different. How wonderful you could pen those words and he read them. What a gift to him. My sincere condolences for your loss, David. Your dad lives on in your words and your heart.

      1. I’m truly sorry for your loss. BTW My e-mail IS valid. Although you site says it is not. Your father left something wonderful in our world, YOU.

  12. Oh David,
    I am grieving with you. I had an Azorean father who had a garden and who has been gone for over a decade. I also have a heart filled with sadness, tears and a deep and tender appreciation for that place where your dad resides in your legacy. Sending love….

  13. Your father sounds like such a beautiful man (reminds me of my Padrinho–they don’t make them like that anymore). So sorry for your loss of such a special person, now and in the days to come, and for your mother’s loss too. What a beautifully written, heartfelt, soulful and insightful homage to your Dad (hard to read through the blur of tears–in a good way!). Be kind to yourself in the days and months to come. Brought back memories–my Dad vowed never to garden since he’d spent so much time doing that as a kid. He would talk proudly about how my Avô would rent rocky plots of land from others and make them productive. Coincidentally, the only thing I saw my Dad plant one summer was potatoes! I wonder if that was a tribute to his Dad after he passed away. Thanks for sharing your gift, sowing seeds of humor, love and nourishment. All my best, Debbie (the Azorean-American hugger from your presentation last year at the Hillsdale General Store with Marion Roach Smith).

    1. Deborah! So good to hear from you. And you understand, better than most, the connection between Azoreans, their gardens, and especially their potatoes. (I don’t think our kind could ever make it on the keto diet.) Thank you again for your kindness.

  14. Please accept my deepest sympathy. It is never the same after you lose your father, but it gets easier with time. I believe that death is just a veil between this side and the next, and that you are forever connected to your father. What beautiful words you wrote, and continue to write. Please continue to do what you so so eloquently, and continue to work in your garden. Those things are a further tribute to your father.

    1. Leslie, thank you. I shall continue what I do, in tribute to my dad. The garden is changing. We put in a pool where the garden was and we’re figuring out the best place to put a new garden. So this year, will just be a few plants. But it’s something.

  15. Hello David, please accept my condolences during this difficult time in your life. You gave wonderful memories of your daddy and you have shared that very eloquently for us. His gift of using his hands to provide for his family was deep-rooted in the difficulties of his childhood in Maia. When I met him here in Elm street, Somerville He was always so pleasant and had a warm smile for everyone. Your parents loved you and were very proud of your talents. Give your mom my email so I can communicate with her. My love goes to you and your extended family and friends who have experienced losses. Your writings are precious and describe what many have gone through. My father always planted potatoes on Saint Patrick’s Day and now I do that in pots with my grandson.!! Traditions continue with fond memories and live on to the next generation. Your cousin Margaret and family send hugs and love to comfort you. Always take care of your garden… Margaret Serpa from Somerville.

  16. David, this is a beautiful tribute. I’m sure you will continue to honour your father with your beautiful dishes and your creativity. God Bless.

  17. To David, heartfelt sympathies on your great loss. May your father know eternal happiness in the heavenly garden. Tears flowing after reading your tribute to a man of uncommon qualities.

  18. What a wonderful tribute to your papa. As a son and a father, I can intimately relate. The most important lesson to be learned is even if opportunities are missed and time passes, as long as we have air in our lungs it’s never too late to build bridges and we never stop learning about ourselves. May his memory always be a blessing.

  19. I’m reading this Father’s Day writing two years later. . .truly a gift to your Dad.
    In a sense, we’re all your children, David, and you’ve officially “passed the torch”.
    Being reminded of gardening with family is a good thing.

  20. Touching, moving, lovely to write it while your father is still here to enjoy what you have to share. Treasure the moments. Makes me sad that I missed out– pics but no memories of my war hero dad. You are lucky.

    1. Thanks, dear Nancy. I know that I am lucky. Really lucky. I speak to my parents once or twice a week, and Momma Leite emails about a zillion times a day. I visit often, too.

  21. What a beautiful tribute to Papa Manny! I don’t have a single memory of him not being in the garden, every summer after work, or giving me a bag of those delicious grapes and other produce to take home with. God has graced him with fruitful hands! My potatoes didn’t turn out so good this year. But I’m determined! Happy Father’s day Mr. Leite!!! Thank you again David for stirring up some wonderful childhood memories!

  22. Oh my, just what I needed this morning: a good cry! I was only looking for a good mayo recipe. I did not have what you describe here but I have been filled with hope and appreciation from a glimpse into your life for it proves we really can be as loving and kind as I hope for us as a people. Thank you so very much.

    Lin in SC

  23. Fathers and sons, a story as old as time. You’re a good man David Leite. Probably a bit like your dad.

  24. Gardening teaches faith & patience, two undervalued virtues in the fast-paced world we live in. If you have the time, it’s one of the best therapy ever. Wonderful story, beautiful writing. Bless you both. Can’t wait for the book.

  25. David, this is a beautiful tribute to your father and a reminder that we’re never to old to learn from them. It sure had me welling up as I recalled the fond memories I have of my own Dad. Thank you for this.


    1. Susan, you are more than welcome. I just love how much my dad is moving center stage in the narrative of my life, and how it is really resonating with others.

  26. Great David… You have me sitting here at work crying…. I’m having a similar situation with my dad. Alzheimers is kicking in and I am frantically trying to absorb his photography knowledge. Sunday afternoon was spent sitting on a stool by his feet at the corner of his chair, with him trying to explain the different settings on the camera. Took me back 40+ years to him teaching me how to figure out binary and multiplication tables… I’ve absorbed other things from him like math, Jazz, his love of cooking & collecting cookbooks (he sent me home with a huge box of his that he could barely pick up). I so understand that frantic obsessive feeling of getting a hold of that knowledge & the stories before I am no longer able. Great tribute, and your Dad’s comment was so sweet!

    1. armymum, I think what you’re doing is wonderful. Your dad’s gifts will always live on within you, as mine will in me. I think so much of this fell apart, this generation-to-generation sharing, in the past 50 or so years. Very few of my cousins cook like their mothers, and my cousins’ kids are at a loss. If we don’t undertake this kind of stewardship, our entire family’s ways could be wiped out in the span of 20 years.

  27. David, I just finished reading your article about your father with tears streaming down my face. What a beautiful piece. Isn’t it amazing how long it takes some of us to appreciate our fathers? You are so lucky that he is still alive to learn from.

    1. Sue, thank you for this. I am indeed lucky that my father and I have been able to have something we share–the bonding over something as simple and pure as a potato plant is amazing.

  28. What a beautiful tribute to your father! You have me holding back tears at my desk David! My daddy is also an avid gardener and I remember many times getting roped into weeding, watering, shucking, shelling, you name it! While at the time I didn’t like it, I remember it all very fondly now. My dad gave us his time whenever we needed it and he shared his passion for gardening with us too. Now, as I try to coax things from the pots on my balcony, I call him whenever I need advice! I can’t wait to go home for vacation with my family and eat a plethora of never-ending beans from the garden along with tomato and cucumber sandwiches – because there are always too many cucumbers and tomatoes! :-P

  29. I enjoyed this very much! I am a gardener and just bought 36 acres to get lost in and hope that my son David will remember our good times in this place gardening.

    1. Cheryl, first: Holy crap! Thirty-six acres. I’m aching with envy. Second: my greatest hope is that David has wonderful memories of you and he in those forever-unrolling acres so that he can carry them with him the whole of his life.

  30. No matter who they are, what they are, or where they are, our fathers never leave us. It takes a long time – but one day we get it. They go from myth to man. That can be the most enlightening of epiphanies. Thanks for the essay David – words I can easily understand! – J.

  31. David,

    Very happy to read your post. You have a loving family and I am so happy you and your father are united. Made my day. My daughter and I mulched all our roses today because of our terrible CA drought. They were on the edge of dying since we can only water twice a week and it has been in the high nineties every day for weeks. I enjoy your blog.

    Sheila Dey

  32. David,

    There are no words. Beautiful! Beautifully written. I am crying, if that gives you any idea of how much I am always touched by and appreciate and enjoy your writing. “This ranks right up there,” as they say. I am glad you are finding the joy of gardening. Nothing makes me feel better than hard work in my yard and garden, and it is for just me. Literally nobody (unless I have company which isn’t often) but the neighbors on one side see it, and how I wish for a privacy fence on that side. As for the tribute to your father, I am happy for you and even in a way envious. I wish my deceased mother and father were good enough parents for me to miss them or want to share anything about them. Maybe someday, never say never. Thank you and Papa Leite for this.

    Love and Admiration,


    1. Susan, thank you. I’m sorry that your parents weren’t the kind of parents that merit missing. I won’t say such nonsense as “find the good in them” or “I’m sure they did the best they could,” because you and I know that ain’t always the case. Sometimes parents suck at being parents. Hell, sometimes they suck at being people. What I do hope for you is that you can find your way to a place where you are comfortable with your feelings toward them.

      With much warmth, David

      1. Nice way to put it. I am very close, almost to that place. I have a happy, fulfilling life and I’m glad I survived my upbringing to be here now. Thank you for your understanding words, and for validating my feelings without candy coating.

        P.S. I have two potato plants in my garden. There were these unidentified plants growing from my compost areas, and one day I was doing the routine digging and chopping to keep it going, and there were some very nice red potatoes! So, I have been doing some transferring from the compost to the garden. Very interesting cycles happening here.

        Wishing you an awesome summer.

  33. Wow. I wonder if i had even less in common with my father than you with yours.

    But 25 years after his death, I still miss him ALL the time!!

    And I’m now 6 months older than he was at death.

    Freaky. Weird.

    A million thanks for the piece. Bravo!!

    1. Jack, you’re welcome, sir. And you’re at the freaky place when you’ve outlived the age of your parent. Since I was a kid, I’ve always had this fear niggling on the underside of my brain that my head would explode the moment I grew even one minute older than my dad. It feels almost like betrayal or something. Oh, shit, more stuff to talk over in therapy!

  34. Your lovely tribute to your dad reminds me of what my daughter once told me, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Thank you for this beautiful write-up. It tugged at my heartstrings.

  35. Thank you for sharing about your dad. My Dad was also very capable of doing wonderful things. I miss talking with him very much! My father built his first boat by steaming the wood in the kitchen, then proceeded to build water skies from what he remembered. He built a barbecue in the patio, by himself, and cooked Sunday pancakes there for us all. He loved us and provided for us, always. He was born of tough stock and never let a project get the best of him. Wish he was still here, wish I was more like him. I admired his fortitude.

    1. Barbara, sounds like you had one hell of dad. Built his own boat? My father and I are both water averse, even though he grew up on a tiny island in an archipelago scattered in the Atlantic like marbles. So the idea of someone building his own boat is wild.

  36. David, there is no doubt you are a gifted writer. I can see where you get some of your talent as your dad summed up his love for you so beautifully in his comment. Wow! Very touching, I cried.

  37. That was and is beautiful David. “Happy Father’s Day” to your Dad and to all the living Father’s. God Bless.

  38. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. You know I value dad as though he were my own and so many times I’ve seen him working in the garden while ma was in the kitchen. He is a wonderful, thoughtful and sensitive man with tons of love in his heart for everyone. I so very proud to know him and know he has such a wonderful son as you who can appreciate a wonderful God fearing dad. I love you too, Manny.

  39. David, thank you for sharing this article with us. You are a very talented writer and this piece is beautifully written and made me feel as if I knew you and your family. Such a wonderful tribute to your dad and your family. I appreciate your honesty and openness and just felt I needed to say that! Thank you again for sharing this…..and another thank you for the work you do to keep this blog in my “favorites”. Bless you.

    1. Dorie, wow. Thanks for all that. Well, I have an incredible team that keeps the recipe part of the site humming along, and I do the best to try (read: not really succeed) to post on a somewhat regular basis on my personal blog.

  40. David, thanks for publishing this. For those of us whose fathers are gone, it’s a reminder of what we once had. And for those whose fathers are still with them, it should serve as a reminder to say whatever is they feel they need to say before it’s too late.

    Enjoy the harvest.

  41. “There is no such thing as gardener’s block.” Perfect. And the potatoes worrying their way through the soil.

    This is artful and lovely. You’re a good son.

    And damn, you’re a fine writer, David Leite.

  42. Beautiful writing and thoughts. Happy Father’s day to you, for all the nurturing love you show to everyone in your life.

  43. This. Was. Beautiful.

    Thank you. Since my mother died 12 years ago (12 years yesterday, in fact), and my beloved step-dad died last year, I tend to avoid the deluge of mother-father related things that floods the interwebs between mother’s day and fathers’ day. It just hurts too damn much. And all those advertisements when there’s nothing I can buy ’em anyway. But I love gardening and got swept up in your great storytelling and didn’t realize until the last line–that it was father’s day. And then I was so glad that I’d read it. This is what tributes to parents should be. This lifted me up. Thank you again.

    1. Thank. You. Evangeline.

      You are more than welcome. I’m so happy that it lifted you, despite it being Father’s Day without a father to share it with. Stay strong.

  44. David, I’m one of your lurkers, and I just have to say thank you for the great Father’s Day tribute to your dad. Tears are flowing in Texas.

    1. Stephanie, I’m glad you commented this time. You’re always welcome here. And please, no tears in Texas! I think the last thing you folks need is more water.

  45. Lovely, moving article made more precious because of your father’s response. There is some kind of solid earthy reassurance that comes from having a childhood connection with the soil. I grew up on an Apple ranch and had a dad who loved to work outside. Somethings we inherit are these deep, intangible gifts we can’t open until wisdom allows us to appreciate them.

    1. Thanks, Donna. You’re right about the earthy connection to the soil when you’re a kid.

      My dad was also a consummate fruit grower. We had apple trees, each with three or four different kinds that he grafted onto the same trunk, as well as pear, peach, and I think a plum tree.

  46. A beautiful story and sentiments. Such a touching surprise to read your Dad’s letter. You must be so proud of him too!

    I planted potatoes for the first time in my box, they are in fact the only semi-thriving plant. I’ll think of you when I (with brown thumb luck) harvest some!

    1. Danke, Rosemary. I’m very proud of my dad. And it’s such a weird thing, you know? I’ve always loved him, but he never held centerstage in my story–that was always cordoned off for the Ethel Merman in my life, Mama Leite. But in writing my memoir, so many wonderful, gentle memories of him popped up. I think it took the quiet act of writing, of rooting around in (forgive the pun) dirt of my past, to find him.

  47. That was beautiful, David. Your father must be proud and happy that you have come to appreciate the wonders of gardening. Gardening was one of my father’s passions and although he is gone for almost 20 years, I still have many memories of his labor. The asparagus was planted along the outside of the fence and it was good for a year or two until their golden retriever discovered that young asparagus was a doggies delight to eat. Then there was the pink carpeting that my father put between the raised beds to keep down the weeds. Discarded rugs did not go to waste. He made a gagootz (spelling?) with zucchini, pole beans, tomatoes, onions…And there was always a jar on the counter to pickle whatever he could- often pole beans stuffed between the cukes.

    My mother keeps a picture on the fridge of his last harvest that was piled on the kitchen table. The vegetables were ripe and perfect. I think Dad would be pleased to know that I also love to garden. How nice that your Dad is still there to connect with and learn from.

    Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads.

    1. Thanks, Jamie. I love the idea of that freaking pink carpet. I want to get me some–and definitely in pink–for my garden!

      Do you mean cucuzza?

      And I’m getting wicked into pickles these days. I don’t have any of my own cukes yet, but when I do, I’ll be quick pickling away.

      1. When I google the word gagootz, it also returns cucuzza- we’re both right! In addition to the ingredients I listed above, I forgot to add peppers and garlic. It all made a wonderful side dish, and sometimes my mother would make small meatballs and cook it in the pot with the veggies for a flavorful stew!

  48. Oh David there are so many things I wish I could have said or done while my father was still alive. I just was not able to see they needed saying or doing as I was yet too young. It does my heart good for you to be able to share these wonderful things and for him to show so much pride in what you have said and done.

    1. Lin, I’m so sorry your young heart didn’t get the chance to say what it needed to say to your dad. It’s always so hard when a parent passes when we’re small. It was the death of two uncles two weeks ago–twenty-four hours apart–that prompted me to write this. I wanted Papa Leite to know with full certainty what I felt.

  49. Auguroni, Papa Leite!!! tante salute per oggi la festa del Papa e per cent’anni!!! what a beautiful story and heartfelt ode!!! bravo david!!! questo dimostra solo che il Papa e un bene caro e inestimabile. we should all hold our fathers so dear!! adesso, vi auguro continuare a riscuotere tanti grandi successi e la massima buona fortuna a Papa Leite, David e tutta la famiglia!! ciao, amici!! un bacione e con affetto per sempre, la tua nuova amica italo-americana, giuseppina xoxo

  50. David,

    Another beautiful entry. The second time I’ve teared up reading your raw, charming, candid words. I do hope at some time you will publish a memoir so that your readers can hear your voice in a longer arc, a symphony rather than a 3 minute song.

    And truly how happy I am that you included your Dad’s response. What a happy happy ending! I’m overjoyed and grateful to the goodness of the universe (and the goodness of the Leite family) that you and your Dad and Mom could still be connected intimately and being gay did not–ultimately–make it impossible for you to continue to share your lives.

    Hooray for you, hooray for Papa and Mama and hooray for the goodness of love in all of its arisings!

    1. Sharon, thank you very kindly. And you will get your wish in the next year or so. I am indeed working on a memoir titled Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression. And as I mentioned to Martha, I think writing the book has put connected me more to my pops.

      I must be honest and admit my being gay definitely got in the way of our closeness. I refused to speak to my mother for many months after I got a cooler than cold reception when I told her. And, later, things were verrry bumpy when I told them about The One. But time and willingness do help–a lot. But thank you for your generous good wishes!

  51. You’ve written about your Mother, but not much about your Daddy. He sounds like a great guy. Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to see the fruits of your & The One’s garden labor.

    1. Dottie, I know! And I thought it was about time. He is a great, and I never really appreciated it. I think writing the book is helping me see him in a very different light.

  52. Loved this! It reminded me so much of my own father, a teacher who always had a garden, and like your father, my Daddy’s gardens got smaller as he aged. But I can’t let a summer go by without at least a few tomato plants and maybe peppers and squash. I miss my father every Father’s Day, so please give your Dad a hug from me.

    1. Betsy, thank you so much for your kind words. I will definitely give Papa Leite a hug for you. I was just there (under the sad circumstance of a funeral for an uncle), but he and I spent some time in his quarter-acre of rocks looking at his gorgeous potato plants!

  53. You have me bawling again, David. What a beautiful post. And even though I don’t know either of you, it makes me happy that Papa Leite can read this tribute and know how much you appreciate and love him.

    1. Yes, Judith, I’m very grateful Papa Leite is well and active. So many of my cousins lost their fathers recently, and it hit us all hard. I’m happy my dad and I are able to have this exchange.

  54. Dear Son,

    Thank you for the great tribute for Father’s Day. It was very touching, emotional, and laced with lots of smiles, pride, and gratitude. The photo of me in the backyard at age 40 isn’t bad, either!

    So, it took 55 years for your gardening genes to kick in. Hey, better late than never. I can think of no one more special on this earth to continue my gardening legacy.

    You have one Dad, I have one son. What a team. Oh, yeah, Mom is part of this great team, but you and I are “The Guy Team.” Can you see her sitting next to me and smiling? Can you hear her saying, “Way to go, Davey?”

    God bless you always, and thanks again for these special writings of your heart! You’re one special kid. Our kid!

    Love in Christ,


      1. WONDERFUL……..brought tears to my eyes……need to see some photos please and some of you together in your garden!

        1. BE, thanks for that. The article was written two years ago, and here are some photos from that year. (So far this year, the garden is under siege by some animals…)

          The One with Beets

          Our garden


          Pickled Summer Squash

          Deformed Carrots

    1. What a lovely tribute to your dad and his talent. My brother and I were raised in Brooklyn on 66th street and 16th avenue – hardly Green Acres. When my brother moved to NJ, he became an excellent gardener – mostly flowers but some veg as well. When my mother would visit him, she’d survey the fruits of his labor and say “Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn.” Now that mom is gone, I make sure to say it at least once a season. Thanks so much for sharing and bravo on your undertaking!

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Upload a picture of your dish