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The Gaffer's Day

In honor of all the dads, granddads, and second dads out there.

The Gaffer’s Day

“Now, Dad--you sit here,” Sam directed as Ham and Hal helped settle the Gaffer in the chair his youngest son held for him. The Gaffer recognized the chair--Sam had arranged to have it made for his Mr. Frodo, for his Master’s use here within the gardens of Bag End. Well, Mr. Frodo was gone now--sailed away with them Elves he used to study about, and now not just the garden but Bag End itself was Sam’s--Sam’s and Rosie’s.

Exactly how that had come about he wasn’t certain. He’d always felt as it wouldn’t be right for his children to mix with their masters; but both old Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo’d refused to be tied down to proper expectations for masters and servants. They hadn’t even agreed to speak of either himself or Sam as servants.

“Nonsense, Hamfast Gamgee,” old Mr. Bilbo’d said once. “You’re not serving me--only doing a job for me so I don’t have to do it myself. You’re no servant--you’re an employee--a gardener; and the best gardener in the entire Shire, I’m wagering. When we’re dealing with a master gardener of your caliber, how can anyone consider you a mere servant? Why, it’s a greater honor for me to consider myself your employer, you see.”

Well, there was no question of himself being the master gardener now--Sam far and away left his old dad in the dust when it came to gardening. Why, look at what he’d managed to do with this garden since he come back from them foreign places! It’d been trampled down and built over--sheds all over the place, the hedges slashed and broken through. But look at it now! The honeysuckle was twice as thick about the new form about the study window; the larkspur, delphiniums, and hydrangeas thick and lush beneath the windows for the dining room; the Elven flowers beneath Mr. Frodo’s window startlingly beautiful about the kingsfoil planted there.

Now, if that wasn’t an oddity, to see kingsfoil planted a’purpose in a garden. Yet the Gaffer had to admit that the delicate white blossoms, which like roses seemed to go on for most of the summer, were surprisingly beautiful, particularly with those golden starflowers and the pursed blooms of the other flower Sam had begged from the one he’d ever call the Lady, and old Mr. Bilbo’s Elven lilies about them.

Rosie was coming out now, carrying a tray fit for the Master himself: delicate cinnamon pastries that would melt in your mouth; biscuits made with the juice of the lemon fruits the King hisself had sent for Yule, sweet and tart at the same time; a cake decorated with sugared violet petals, made with rose water, tasting like a delicate summer morning on the tongue; ham and crisp cress between bread rolls; a refreshing tea of herbs the nature of which the Gaffer hisself remained ignorant. And all this for him--for Gaffer Gamgee, no one in particular.

And behind Rosie came his fairy-like granddaughter, little Elanor with her hair as golden as the Elven starflower for which she’d been named, as graceful and delightful as the Elven lilies Mr. Bilbo’d introduced to the Shire, with that blessed, joyful smile that, every time he saw it, reminded him of the young Master’s own. She led out her little brother, small Frodo-lad. His hair was fair enough now, but old Hamfast sensed it would darken up a bit as he grew, likely being a somewhat fairer honey color than that of his father by the time he was growed.

And then came his Marigold carrying sweet little Rosie-lass in her arms, the infant a spittin’ image of the beauty of his own Bell, her eyes already filled with the sweetness her grandmother’d always displayed. Forget pastries and biscuits, tea and bread rolls--here was joy to clasp as the bairn was laid in his arms, as the other grandchildren began to cluster around, his Ham’s son and Hal’s daughter as well as Sam’s lass and lad.

May and Daisy came out with their husbands, and Tom carrying small Lily in his arms, the little one already letting all know she wanted down--down with her older cousins, Hal and Ham’s wives carrying out more trays of hardier fare for their husbands and brother- and sisters-in-love and their families.

He looked up into the satisfied eyes of his youngest son. “I’d thought as it’d be more fittin’ down below, there in Number 3.”

Sam gave a huffing breath. “Nonsense, Dad--it’s your day today, but there’s not enough room there for us to all gather. And this garden’s ever been as much yours as mine, you know. If’n you’d not taught me all you knew, where’d it be today, do you think? This was as much your gift to me as his--it’s only fittin’ as today you see just how much we’ve all loved you all this time, and what your carin’ for us has brought each of us to.”

He looked about--his Hamson the roper; his Halfred with his successful nursery up Tighfield way; Daisy and Moro, whose tailoring and embroidery shop was once again bustling with trade; May with her husband’s arms about her, her body swelling with their first child expected in a few months; his Marigold now living at the farm she, her Tom, and their children would inherit one day; and his Sam--his small golden lad who’d growed to meet that destiny he’d always feared--met it and bested it, and come home again. They said as out there, beyond the Shire, Sam was a person of influence, one the new King hisself spoke of as a brother--as much so as had been that other Hobbit the King’d felt that way toward, the one who’d found he could no longer linger this side of the Sea. But here he was again Sam--but no longer the gardener’s lad--they was callin’ him the Gardner now.

Making certain small Rosie was held steadily in his left arm, the Gaffer reached up with his right, clasped his hand about Sam’s upper arm and drew him down where he could look into those hazel eyes that were like brown pebbles under water with the golden sunlight flickering off the ripples. They were as steady as ever, if they saw more than the Gaffer hisself had ever been able to perceive. There was a memory of glory, a memory of loss, a memory of pain, and an awareness of delight there. Oh, his beloved youngest lad bore scars on his heart as well as on his forehead and temple and those hidden ones on his legs and back, not to mention those particularly troubling ones on his shoulders; but as Rosie’d put it, they were scars of honor, proving how worthy he was. “I want to say,” he said, “as just how proud I am of you--of all of you, and how glad I am now as I’ve lived to see this day, and to sit in this garden again.” He looked about, smiling as all smiled back at him. “It’s my day, you say--well, it’d be nothin’ special without each and every one of you, I’m thinkin’. And how proud the Masters must be seein’ all of you and what you’ve come to.”

And he saw Sam smile at that, for all his eyes glistened the least bit, and he was glad. For Sam had never been seen as but a servant, either. No, he’d embraced the friendship offered him by the young Master, and in the end had been loved and honored as a brother. Yet that relationship had never drawn him away from those to whom he’d been born as happened too often it seemed--it had simply proven to open him the more fully to be the son and brother--and now husband and father--that had ever been there.

The Gaffer drew Sam down further to whisper in his ear, “I’m glad now as you never paid me no heed, for I see now as where mixin’ with your betters took you--made you and all of us the better for havin’ knowed ’em, it has. You’re no ninnyhammer as I was, lad. And I’m the one as is honored to have ye as my son.”

And he was pleased to see his son shine at that, warm and sun-lit--yes, proper to the gardener he was. The Gaffer sat back clasping both arms again about his youngest grandchild so far, and looked down again into her face, seeming to see Bell smiling through her in as much satisfaction and joy as he himself felt.

Yes, this was his day, he thought as he reached for one of those biscuits.


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