Most of us grow tired of winter by the time spring gets here. Thank God that Georgia is not in Minnesota. We southerners might be at our wits end if winter lasted until Mother’s Day and the first killing frost fell on us by mid-September. It’s been depressing enough in this pandemic year without that.
Just the mention of places like Duluth and International Falls makes my blood run cold. God intended Minnesota for Vikings. Folk of strong Norwegian descent who are not happy unless there is two feet of snow on the ground. “Dis has bin some kinda nice cold winter, yah? Goot for da ice fishing dis year.”
Around my house, spring has finally begun to show its face. The woods have been dressed in drab brown pants since November, and everyone is swapping out for sweaters of green. Small hints of life are visible in the tall canopy overhead. Signs that winter has not won. That joy comes in the morning. That backyard grills and baseball and kids playing tag until dark is just around the corner.
Weeds are a harbinger of spring. God’s flowers, I prefer to call them. Bittercrest is growing in my flowerpots like a scarlet letter of shame around my neck. I’m supposed to know plants. I should have pots full of Snapdragons and Foxglove and Pansies and Dianthus, but I have become lazy and perhaps too comfortable with less than average landscaping.
Some people have nicely landscaped gardens around their houses. I just have a regular old-fashioned yard. A few bushes. Some that flower. Some that are dead. Some that are mostly green.
If I had a sur’nough landscape, I’d have exotic plants perfectly placed. Southern Living certified cultivars than inspire envy among true gardeners. I’d have a mix of seasonal interest with texture for the eye and fragrance for the nostrils. I’d have a manicured turf. The pine straw beds would be clean, and the lines would curve smoothly around every corner.
But what I have is a mix of weeds and grass. Leaves left over from winter. No pine straw beds. The kind of yard you see while traveling down most any rural road in Georgia. Most of it qualifies as vegetation, but that’s about it. My grandkids love the Dandelions, so I protect them and keep them so they can pick bouquets for Nana.
And what would spring be without pollen. My hood and windshield are covered in a blanket of yellow right now. The front porch is covered. The wicker chairs are covered. The porch swing is covered. The cushion covers are covered. The grill is covered. Leave anything outside for more than 30 minutes and it gets buried in a dust that looks a lot like the sulfur powder my Dad used to put in his boots. Yellow tin with a blue lid with holes in it. Twist and shake. We just can’t get away from all the yellow.
Zyrtec sales are up. Another sign of spring. I’ve been taking these little pills since the first Bush was in the White House. It was about that time that I went through an allergy test. Forty-seven little pricks later, the Doc reads off a list of all the things I am allergic to. Grass, Golden Rod, and trees were at the top of the list. For a guy who has worked outside with plants for the last 40 years this was the most ironic news I had ever received.
“You might want to consider a career working indoors”, he said.
I tried that one time for about five months. I was a basket case. An office with no windows shuffling stacks of papers and answering the phone. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and went back to landscape work. Zyrtec became my friend. Spring became a season for chronic sinus fatigue and sleeping through sermons in church. My preacher would accuse me of this year-round.
The thing about spring is that it brings a feeling of euphoria like no other season. People everywhere just feel better. Our outlook changes. We gawk at spring flowers. Sweeps of Daffodils that pop up in unexpected places. It’s like they’ve been hiding under winter’s blanket. They throw back the covers and unveil their happy faces. Even grouchy old men smile back at the daffodils that remind them of Grandma’s front yard.
Along my way to the farm there’s an old stone chimney in the woods not far off the road. There’s a family of daffodils that pop up their heads around that chimney every spring. I imagine the house that once stood there. The road was dirt back then. An old barn with chickens and pigs and a milk cow. No landscape. Just a yard. Maybe two Spirea planted either side of the steps to the front porch.
Mama says, “I’d like to have me a few daffodils to plant around the end of the house.”
“We can’t eat daffodils. I don’t know why you’d want to spend good money on something that does absolutely nothing for us.” Paw is a practical man.
“I don’t care. I’ve saved up a little money from the eggs I’ve sold in town and I want to plant me some daffodils this winter for springtime. Next time you’re by Kimbrough’s you stop in and get me a dozen bulbs.”
You see, her mother died in 1919 from the Spanish flu. And when she was a little girl she helped her Mama plant a few daffodils out by the well house. This was a way to remember. A way to remind herself that hope never dies.
It’s a cold miserable day. The dishes have been put away. The chickens have been fed. The kids have long been gone off to school. The house is quiet. She puts on her coat and reaches into the pantry where she laid the bulbs on shelf for safe keeping. When she goes out onto the back porch, the screen door screeches behind her and closes with a slap. She picks up her flower trowel, walks down the steps and around the end of the house by the chimney.
Digging in the ground and planting a handful of daffodils is her way of shaking her fist at winter. It’s a promise to hold on to. An understanding that better days will come. That no matter how drab life gets, the seasons will change. They always have. And when spring does come, her efforts will show everyone that passes by, she is a woman of resolve. A humble house that looks nothing like success by the harsh standards of this world, but one that stands with dignity. No Great Depression can steal that. No loss can dimmish her memories.
And for a few weeks, all these years later, I can see the hope she planted so long ago. I am reminded that this world is still a beautiful place. That spring has come and given us a sign.