The Merry Month Of May

It is the tail-end of marsh marigold season!   The cheery little golden blossoms (unrelated to actual marigolds) dot the swampy, boggy areas in late April or early May like floral sunshine.  They make me smile!  And the cinnamon ferns just outside my dining room window have uncoiled like fluffy green serpents and now wave tall in the breezes.  The recent and constant rain is discouraging, but the landscape is looking very green as a result.   

In spring, on our dairy farm, the animals would be sent out to pasture and the green field was then dotted with fawn and white Guernsey cows.  The barns would be cleaned out and whitewashed inside.   Excess twine would be rolled into usable coils and the milk house was shining.  Spring-cleaning, in some form, apparently still goes on according to the very “country aroma” I got back in April.  These days that odor is a tad more objectionable since large farms store liquid manure and spread the accumulation over the fields with big tanker trucks.  It is more efficient, but assuredly smellier. 

We have just returned home after driving down and back up through four states, often through land where fields are being planted and many sorts of cattle dot the landscape.  We enjoyed a lovely time visiting friends and family in Virginia.  My former square dance dress was transformed into our granddaughter’s party dress with the simple addition of wide lace around that endless skirt ruffle, and lacing up the back.  It is always fun to wear a swirling skirt, and I think she enjoyed it too.  I was delighted to see that the musicians were teaching the intricacies of Appalachian dancing — steps that came over with Scottish and Irish settlers.  This room-full of dancers learned the 4-hand star, do-si-do, reeling off and dips and dives in lines or circle dancing, but they are the very same patterns that are used in square dancing, with different names.  The kids had great fun dancing the night away with moves from the 14th century.  I’m glad to see these traditional forms of fun are continuing.  On our way home we were able to attend church and catch up with people where we formerly were members, in Pennsylvania.  It was a good few days away.

As I finish this essay, it is the evening of Mother’s Day.  Naturally this brings a plethora of memories.  One of the memorable things about my mother was her gardening vision.  She may not have moved Heaven and Earth (though I’m not really sure about that) but she did move a lot of tangible soil as she built her gardens for 50 years.  She even tried to subdue the area around the cow barn, but then would find odd objects like milk can lids crushing the day lilies or barn cats making hidey holes in the holly hawks.  She finally planted a row of thorny barberry bushes as a statement that she was giving up on traditional flowers, but was determined to landscape in some way.   She may even have had a slightly malicious hope that a few of the careless hands around the farm would get just a bit scratched as they tossed things into her plantings.  Her many gardens, both sunny and shaded, were lovely in all seasons.  She was always finding new plants or transplanting ones she had to a better location.  She didn’t forget what they were or where they came from, and she knew all the Latin names.

We all enjoyed stopping by and visiting with my mother. Entering the house usually brought a whiff of turpentine and varnish that she used in her painting.  The cookie boxes were always full and the tea kettle ready to go.  She was not afraid of life or change; she stayed aware of the world around and was alert to what the entire family was doing.  She had some definite opinions and willingly stated them, but she also was open to listening to what others had to say and think.  She accepted her offspring’s choices of mates, cordially, and uncritically.  Even now, many of us feel that if we could have a perfect day, it would include sitting around the oak table by the big window in her kitchen, having molasses cookies and Constant Comment tea, as we chatted about whatever came to our minds.

Mother, even though she grew to be legally blind, managed to continue living in the house that had been hers for nearly 60 years.   At one point, Kerm and I offered her the apartment over our garage.  We thought it would be nice for us – to have her closer and nice for her — to be where she could share meals and good times with us.  But she gently told us that making an entirely new life at age 90 would take more energy than she had.  She assured us that she had a group of friends (fellow-artists) and family, who checked on her regularly.  And this was true.  If it had not been so — if she had been lonely or neglected or not eating and caring for herself — we might have been more insistent.  But I think there probably comes a time for everyone —- plants and humans — when transplanting is too damaging to the roots, and staying put options have to be explored.

There are also people in my life who have stepped into a mothering role on occasion, and I am grateful for them.  My sisters-in-law were fifteen to twenty years older than I, and somehow they moved gracefully from mothering me as a child to accepting that I was an adult twenty years later.  My mother-in-law was also a kind and caring woman who welcomed me into the family, was never critical and was always ready to help.  I’ve had some really good role models.  There is often considerable moaning from the older generation about how young parents raise their children.  But nearly all of those I know are exemplary.  They juggle so many roles and still do marvelous things with their kids.  So cheers for mothers — actually —- for anyone of any gender or age who parents in a kind, creative and loving way.

Many of us in my circle of friends, have lived for quite a few years without our mothers, but neither how old we are nor how long they’ve been gone mutes one’s grief.   This loss is always just beneath the surface and may pop out at odd moments triggered by something we’ve read, a recipe we are using, a vagrant aroma or a photo. Time may round the edges of  grief but it never really goes away.   I think that we sometimes forget that our mothers were people as well as mothers.  I can look back and see some choices they made that may have been something of a sacrifice, and now I can appreciate that.  We all make parenting mistakes but hopefully the good outweighs the inept or foolish.   As I observe our grown sons and the adult children of friends, I think they survived and thrived.  They are enjoyable, compassionate, adults with many skills.  They work hard, set a fine example for children and manage to keep a sense of humor in this difficult world.  So on this Mother’s Day, I’m glad for our sons and all the children who have been part of our lives and who inspired and developed that part of us that nurtures and gains wisdom in doing so.

May is a busy month, and as we come closer to the “safe” date for planting in Zone 5b, we are thinking of what can go where.  Those garden genes always kick in now.  Surely there must be room somewhere for another peony and a rose bush.  And where shall I put the replacement for the autumn-blooming clematis that we tore out when we redid the porch?   Last fall I thought we could do without pumpkins but now………….all of those wonderful varieties of pumpkin and squash seem so necessary. 

Cleaning out in the garden is as essential as cleaning out that barn I spoke of earlier.  The weeds have thrived and the climbing roses need to be trimmed.  A couple of dead trees need to be removed and the forsythia cut back.  The clumps of comfrey need a firm hand.  Busy days outside are good for body and spirit, so this very old verse makes sense:  Happy the man whose wish and care a few parental acres bound, Content to breathe his native air in his own ground.” * We don’t necessarily need to dance around a May pole to appreciate a month that offers thirty-one potentially wonderful days, a sense of merriment, bird songs and new flowers.  We simply need to breathe deeply and appreciate!  Happy May!!

Carol may be reached at:  

*Alexander Pope —- English poet. 1688-1744. Best known for his satirical poetry but wrote in all genres.

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