My Dad, Lawrence Leo Damewood, Sr., has long been an inspiration in my life. I owe most of my views about nature, and conservation to him. Dad passed away last week at the age of 80 following an illness that limited the time he could spend in his yard and garden.
Dad was born during the depth of the Great Depression. His parents, like most back then, were struggling just to survive. They did so by reusing everything they could, growing much of their own food, and being mindful not to waste anything.
Growing up with Dad I learned many “green” practices, but anyone who knew Dad would tell you that he was anything but a tree-hugger (though he did have close to 30 trees in his yard at one point in time). Rather, Dad was practical. Finding ways to improve efficiencies and reduce waste.
Heating and Cooling
When I was a boy still living at home Dad had the house insulated. I don’t know if the walls weren’t insulated to begin with, or if the old insulation had simply settled. The company he hired drilled holes in the exterior walls and blew an expanding foam insulation into the cavities. The experience seemed absurd and magical to my young mind. Cutting holes into the side of the house just seemed “wrong”, but the foam that bubbled up and out of those holes was exciting and enticing. I had the job of picking up the excess foam from the ground and putting it in a bucket (Dad loves his buckets). The insulation reduced our heating bill substantially.
Later, Dad resided the house with vinyl siding. Under the siding he had the installers place ridged foam panels, adding even more insulation to an already well-insulated wall.
Dad also had storm windows. Rather than “double panes” like we have today, Dad literally had two sets of windows, one on the inside, one on the outside. I’m sure replacing them with modern windows would help with heating and cooling costs even more, but Dad did what he could with the technology available at the time.
Back when the U.S. Government was paying people to install “solar-anything”, Dad jumped on. He debated installing a sun-room on the back of the house, but opted for a solar-thermal heater to supplement his forced-air heating. (I regret not getting the motor fixed before he passed away, it burnt out after over a decade of use.)
I helped Dad tear off the old roof and replace it with new shingles twenty years ago. Not wanting to ever have to do that again, he said the next roof he put on would be metal. True to his word, the house now has metal shingles which shed snow (no more getting on the roof to shovel it off like we did one year), and helps reflect heat in the summer, keeping the house cooler.
To Dad gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a way of life. His vegetable garden is lager than some yards I’ve seen. In it he’d grow red beets, yellow crook-neck squash, green beans, onion (walla walla sweets were my favorite), garlic, carrots, leeks, potatoes, fennel, broccoli, and tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes.
He replaced his three compost piles with three tumbling composters. These three would accept all the leftovers and waste from the garden and convert them into compost that he would use to fertilize his garden later. Most table-scraps would also go into the composter to be turned into fertilizer. Dairy, meat, and cheese scraps would go into a container in the freezer that he would later take to his other property which had a pond. He’d toss the frozen contents into the pond for the catfish to eat. We’d later catch and eat the catfish — but until we did they’d eat the mosquitoes and their larvae.
He was also a fan of mulch, but not the kind you’d get at the store. No, Dad would save the lawn-clippings and spread them on his flower- and garden-beds. When he needed more he’d drive us around the neighborhood looking for black garbage sacks filled with grass.
Dad also had lots of trees. Apple trees. Black and English walnut trees. Peach and apricot trees. Pecan trees. He even had filbert trees to grow hazel nuts.
In his flower beds he grew roses, trumpet vine, and Morning Glory (not bindweed) as living privacy fences. He also grew blue berries, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, and strawberries in those “flower beds”. Even the flowers he grew in his “flower beds” had more than one purpose. Oh, the flower beds encircle the entire perimeter of his yard by about 36-inches and are raised, allowing him to flood irrigate his lawn without losing any water down the road or into the neighbor’s yard.
At various points in his adult life Dad had geese, ducks, sheep, pigs, and even goats. Table scraps that weren’t fit for the compost pile would be put in a bucket and fed to the various animals.
Dad also had honey bees that he kept on the back patio outside my bedroom window for a short time.
When I was very small, Dad had my brother and I help him dig furrows and plant “sticks” in the ground. We were sure he was crazy. These sticks wouldn’t ever turn in to trees. But they did. Dad’s “sticks” eventually grew into a grove of massive poplar trees. As the trees grew they needed to be thinned and we fell the trees and made firewood which Dad would burn in his fireplace. The hearth around the fireplace took up the entire wall and approximately four-feet of the room. It seemed a bit much, but Dad knew what he was doing. The entire mass was made from lava-rock and mortared in place. When the fire was lit the rock would absorb the heat and return it into the house in the winter time. In the summer the cool rocks would absorb heat from the house, reducing our need for air conditioning.
As Father’s Day approaches and gardening season gets under way, I felt it fitting to remember my Dad and give credit to the influence that he had on my life, especially in my formative years.
I miss you, Dad.