I received a special gift in today’s mail. A writer named Anne Bardsley, whom I’ve never met, sent me a piece she’d written in honor of my father, Darrell, whom she had never met. Darrell Sifford was a syndicated newspaper columnist, I think in 150 or so newspapers, based out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as a speaker and book author. He drowned in March of 1992 in Belize while on a month long vacation to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. I will be sixty in July.
Anne said that she still refers to my Dad’s books for inspiration and that, when he died, she felt like she’d lost a good friend whom she’d never met. She quoted the last line of the last article he wrote for the Inquirer, just before his death: “I’d send you a postcard, but I’m not sure there’s any place to mail it.” She then mentions my brother, wanting his address. Grant, my younger and only brother, died 8 years ago after falling on an icy sidewalk and splitting his head open. Pieces of his brain were left behind on that ice. He never regained consciousness. We took him off life support the following morning.
Darrell is buried in Roxboro, NC, half an hour north of Durham. This is where his widow Marilyn is from. I was numb at the funeral and did not want to see his body. A couple of weeks later there was a memorial service in Philadelphia. Lots of people were there, maybe several thousand. Most had never met him. They came up to me afterward and said things like “Your Dad saved my life”, “Your Dad saved my marriage”, and without your Dad’s writings, I wouldn’t be where/who I am today”. I went to the restroom in that cathedral and wept like a baby.
Right now, I’m filled with emotion. I am honored, I am happy, I am well satisfied, and I’m sad as hell. Yes, all at once. Right now, my tears tell my story. I want to laugh, I want to thank God, I want to cry, and I want to crawl under the proverbial rock. But this is my moment, my life, and I want and need to own it. We all have this kind of life, though, don’t we? A passage in a book that Marilyn published after his death, one that Anne quotes in her letter and one that I’d forgotten, says in part: “Darrell was a master at discovering the stories of people, of recognizing the extraordinary in the ordinary and at presenting it in ways that provided a mirror through which readers could review and reflect on their own experiences.” I want to follow in his foot steps : discover and tell the stories of people and recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary. I have felt that it is my duty, my legacy, to do these things through my garden designs. This is the vehicle of expression which God, fate and destiny have chosen for me. When I was asked by Houzz to write for them, which I did for almost 3 years, it wasn’t because it would be good for my design business, which it was, but because I felt in my spirit that this was the way that I was supposed to connect with, and honor, my Dad. He would have been proud. Although he knew nothing about gardening, he was my muse, sitting on my shoulder, whispering into my ear, directing my fingers on the keyboard.
Usually, my Dad would end his columns with this phrase: “Join me, won’t you?” That phrase lives poignantly in my mind at this moment. You see, we’re all in this world together, all experiencing the “human experience”. We tend to forget this when we allow our politics or our religion or our ethnicity to divide us. But we are all humans in this big, small, beautiful, and ugly world. So join me, won’t you?