O my God, after seemingly endless rain and gloom, we wonder if You forgot to set Your alarm. Worse, maybe You left on an infinite vacation. Then surprise! On this sunny day, Your Light drenches us. We remember that You and the sun are there always — whether we see You or not.
This spring, God has outdone Himself. Lush lilacs, like grape clusters, decorate bushes. Redbuds flaunt finery like skinny little girls wearing new Sunday dresses. Pear, crabapple, and locust trees grace the landscape like young girls on prom night.
I yearn for the trees’ beauty and fragrance the way some crave the first steak on a grill.
Not surprising, as my parents, tree huggers long before the concept became popular, adored flowering trees. Gradually, we children realized that most families’ Sunday afternoon drives did not achieve action movie status.
MOM: Ooooh, lovely dogwoods.
DAD: Aaaah, those lilacs smell wonderful. Roll down your windows.
KID #1: Shouldn’t you keep both hands on the wheel?
KID #2: How about one?
MOM: I’m holding the road. Mmmm. Isn’t God good?
KID #3: But no one’s watching the road!
KID #4: Let us pray.
ALL KIDS: Look out! (Dive for the floor.)
DAD: What’s your problem? I missed that guy.
KID #5: Um, Dad … we missed the bridge. We’re floating — sort of —
MOM: But look at those crabapples!
I succumbed to the habit, passing it on to my small children. Their pursuit of blooming beauty resembled search-and-destroy missions. When their quests expanded to others’ yards, I intervened.
“But,” I told them, “if branches hang over sidewalks, you may smell them, if you’re careful. That’s just borrowing.”
Chubby hands grasped behind their backs, they sniffed away.
I followed their good example. Besides, borrowing kept me out of trouble, too.
Our next home’s trees seemed under a curse, succumbing to lightning and disease. One of two peach trees went into a coma and never recovered.
Having witnessed her partner’s demise, the surviving peach tree eyed us with trepidation. Thankfully, Penelope, as I named her, greeted me at my kitchen window the following spring, wearing clouds of delicate salmon-colored blossoms.
We planted a redbud and two lilacs. Their first spring, they wowed us. However, the following year, they too succumbed to the curse.
I wandered the streets … and borrowed past my limit.
My husband wasn’t keen about calls from the police, so we planted a crabapple and a pear that flourished. A generous friend gave us rose of Sharon starts.
I will try not to run you down. Or miss bridges.
But you won’t mind if I borrow your trees on the way, will you?
Thank you for informing us, as people bail out living rooms. Facebook whines and surly crowd mumbles at Walmart — my scientific tools for measuring demographic mood — have reached record levels.
So I share suggestions for coping with April showers until they produce May flowers and golfing hours.
- Celebrate that nonstop rain = a power wash for house. And cars. And the lawn mower I forgot to put in the garage.
- Instead of a rain dance, do a sun dance. Show your moves to bored kids and grandkids. They’ll either join in or run screaming, leaving you to dance — or nap — in peace.
- Monitor the backyard battle. Marching dandelions take over my lawn. However, violets are mobilizing, too. Who will win? My neighbors are taking bets.
- Clean the junk drawer—a penance that satisfies the pathological urge to accomplish “spring cleaning” without actually doing it.
- Stick your nose outside to sniff the wet glory of earth and hyacinths.
- Count cars racing through the rain — my nostalgic salute to inclement childhood days when I truly had nothing to do.
- Reassure pansies. Mine won’t spend their entire lives in our garage. Soon I’ll send them, plus houseplants, outside and watch them party.
- Try on summer clothes. If mine fit, I pat myself on the back. If not, I shop for a new wardrobe!
- Listen to your parents’ music. Doing so recalls the rare privilege of sitting in the station wagon’s front seat while envious siblings elbowed each other in back. The radio poured out orchestra music led by David Rose, Henry Mancini and Percy Faith while raindrops raced down the windshield. Wipers, resembling long, thin Fred-Astaires clad in tails, bowed in sync.
- Snuggly rainy days are the perfect backdrop for devouring an I-can’t-put-this-down book.
- Throw a baseball inside the house. Someone will yell at you, and you’ll feel like you’re nine again.
- Be daring. Watch an old movie, when good-night kisses were considered somewhat scandalous.
- Find an intact umbrella and walk. Pass a house with Christmas decorations and feel smug because you put yours away last week.
- Sing outside. Belt out “Singin’ in the Rain,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” — and watch traffic clear out.
What’s your favorite rainy day activity?
For years I celebrated holidays by directing church musicals. One fateful Easter I chose Watch the Lamb, which focused on Jesus as the Lamb of God. A live lamb would make the ancient story come alive.
During rehearsals, the cast greeted our lamb with enthusiasm.
Church janitors did not. “Do something before that animal pees all over — or worse.”
Why hadn’t I considered this minor complication? Especially as the lamb made entrances down different aisles. Most Passover lambs in 30 A.D. did not wear Pampers®
What other option existed?
God provided the perfect solution: we would cover the stage and church aisles with the burlap-like backside of my recently discarded carpet.
However, God didn’t send angels to cut, arrange and duct tape the carpet throughout the sanctuary. After two unspiritual, aching-knee days, all my bases were covered. No worries now, right?
Loony the Lamb had his own ideas about entrances and exits. A hay bale helped keep him quiet, but for obvious reasons, we avoided feeding him too much.
The 60-member cast’s noise made Loony more nervous than your Aunt Nellie. Kids petted him without mercy. Bright lights and heat caused him to hyperventilate. During dress rehearsal, Loony the Lamb collapsed onstage in a wooly, quivering heap.
Watch the Lamb? No audience would want to watch this.
Two animal lovers carried the prostrate lamb outside while we prayed — and Loony recovered. One guy built a pen outside the stage door where our prima donna cropped grass between scenes. Visiting hours were restricted, with no autographs. We did everything but paint a star on Loony’s gate.
Thankfully, he showed no new signs of cardiac arrest. His brassy baaaaa erupted only once during performances — during solemn prayer after the crucifixion.
Our ingenious actors shifted and blocked escape routes, all the while looking very holy.
One child earned my special appreciation: “Loony was peein’ on my foot the whole time Jesus was on the cross, but I didn’t say nothin’.”
Even after Loony returned home, I couldn’t shake off sheep. Scriptures about lambs leaped from the Bible’s pages. Jesus frequently called his followers His sheep. After Watch the Lamb, I figured He didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Nevertheless, the King of Heaven volunteered to take on the title “Lamb of God” — what God in His right mind would do that?
Even one dithery pageant director named Rachael — which means “lamb.”
Have you participated in a pageant/play that taught you more than you expected?
In the Oregon desert where I lived two years, the few thunderstorms rated newspaper headlines. People ran for cover as if King Kong had invaded. They spoke in hushed tones of thunder, lightning and the deluge that made them search for the nearest Ark to rent.
Those storms hardly would have rated an umbrella in Indiana. Still, my father’s congregation trembled when he assumed the storm watcher persona he adopted long before The Weather Channel. Piles of purple clouds — if rotating, all the better — called for his scrutiny.
Mom, however, insisted that my siblings and I remain safe inside. How boring.
Later, back in Indiana, I was a passenger in a car that defied a white sheet of rain stretched across the road. Tree branches ripped, grabbing sparking power lines as they crashed. A chimney exploded.
The driver very appropriately prayed, “Dear Jesus, keep us safe. But if not, please take us to heaven.”
This struck me as unnecessarily pessimistic. In one of my less holy moments, I yelled at the top of my 18-year-old lungs, “Knock it off, Jo. Quit giving me last rites, okay?”
God in His mercy listened to Jo and ignored me.
I later succumbed to Boring Mother Disease during storm season. One spring, my small children and I spent so much time snuggled in our bathtub, they regarded it as a second library, the normal place to read storybooks.
My husband, bone-tired from a 24/7 medical practice, refused to budge from his nice warm bed just because pesky tornadoes suffered from insomnia.
Our next house featured an ancient basement. Hubby still favored Oz during tornado warnings. The kids and I, however, preferred the dungeon to our former cramped porcelain refuge. We added Play-Doh and Yahtzee tournaments to the storm regimen.
Now empty-nesters, Steve and I again live in a one-story ranch. Upon purchase, I assured myself that no storm could hoist my post-middle-age body more than a few feet.
Soon, however, lightning seemingly sizzled around my pillow, and moaning wind and rain drowned my husband’s snores. I craved my former dungeon, but tried to reassure myself.
You’ll laugh about this tomorrow.
The next morning, our ceiling had not moved. Peeking out windows, I saw no branches on the ground — not even many twigs. Why had I been such a nervous Nellie?
Back to Bathtub Story Hour for me.
Are you a storm watcher? Or do you run for a basement–or bathtub?
Most people stay far too busy during spring to pause and practice their God-given powers of observation. Although I, too, keep an encyclopedia-sized to-do list, I decided to sacrifice the time, pour myself a cup of coffee and ponder spring stuff:
- Spring is when we rid our yards of pretty dandelions and violets and instead, try to grow plants whose native habitat is the Amazon River Basin.
- Some high-fashion people wear flip-flops when it’s sleeting. Other divas wear boots during heat waves. Moral of the story: Spring footwear has nothing to do with feet. Though I feel the mad urge to wear white shoes.
- Storing one’s winter woolies at the spring equinox can prove almost as dangerous as selling a crib at a spring garage sale. (Blizzard or baby, you pick.)
- A sadistic burglar obviously replaced my spring clothes with an identical wardrobe two sizes too small.
- Prom dresses currently bloom throughout area stores. Either that, or lots of people are going to Vegas.
- I may never have looked like Debbie Reynolds, but I’m a Singin’-in-the-Rain kind of girl. You?
- During early spring, strawberries taste more like medicine than a fruit. Still, I buy them.
- Doesn’t it seem sacrilegious to celebrate the Resurrection at the same time we will have to pay the IRS?
- After spring break, an epidemic sweeps our nation’s campuses, victimizing students, professors and administration alike. The name of this menace? The College Crankies. A large migration of university spouses has been noted to take place at this time.
- Have you ever noticed that spring soccer fields smell like wild onions?
- My scudsy, corroded car, whose unfortunate state hasn’t bothered me all winter, now bothers me.
- Ditto for my house’s dirty windows. And my dirty carpets. And my furniture. And. …
- Gangway! The golfers are loose!
- Now that spring has arrived, my husband no longer gripes about my sleeping with the window open. An added bonus: a nearby frog choir provides a nightly lullaby to ease us into Dreamland.
- No five-star restaurant’s swanky French dessert menu could hope to rival the first luscious, drippy ice cream cone of spring.
Perhaps it’s time to rouse myself from my profound cogitations and determine if this year’s cone will uphold the standard.
No weightier spring pursuit than that.
What’s your favorite spring stuff?
Though considered a sentimental rite of passage, graduation more accurately resembles a series of trials — for all involved. Other societies require sticking one’s hand into a glove full of tropical ants or running naked across a herd of cows’ backs. Still, few match the demands of a contemporary American graduation, where we face:
Trial by Speeches. Graduation requires that half the addresses be delivered by people who never make speeches.
Graduates’ talks — generally an exception — are thoughtful and well-practiced, thanks to parents’ and teachers’ threats.
Academic speakers, however, often push listeners to the breaking point. Perhaps the researcher who spoke at my son’s graduation had studied disembodied brains so long she forgot how to connect with those still residing in humans.
If graduates misbehave, the graduation gods will press a button, ejecting them onto Neptune without diplomas. So students Super-Glue their eyelids open. They ready socks to stuff into mouths that issue inappropriate comments or snores. Friends don’t let friends snore during graduation speeches.
Proponents support this polite façade because graduates learn the hypocrisy necessary to keep a job.
The opposition claims such courtesy perpetuates poor speeches. If listeners shot Super Soakers at a sleep-inducing windbag, quality would climb considerably.
Trial by Wardrobe. If aliens attended a graduation, they might conclude the assembly was undergoing mass penance. Suits, ties, high heels, body shapers and control-top pantyhose abound. Graduation gowns trap heat when dry and disintegrate into goo during rainy processionals.
Mortarboards, true to their name, work well for bricklayers. They should not be imposed on human heads. No woman’s hairdo in the history of western civilization has survived the ordeal.
Trial by Music. After 96 repeats of “Pomp and Circumstance,” even the composer might ban the tune forever.
Also, no one ever knows the words to a school’s alma mater. Tunes, however, seem familiar, since many alma maters are based on Cornell University’s “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” — which borrowed its melody from a song about someone dying of tuberculosis.
No wonder we are moved to tears as, struggling to read the program’s print, we warble:
Glory to thy bricks and ivy,
Airy halls of light and truth.
We leave behind thy golden towers,
Built by our bank accounts, forsooth.
Or something like that.
Trial by Smile. Graduates must hug hitherto unknown relatives. This is good practice for their weddings.
Yes, the bravest students, families and friends must endure this rite of passage known as graduation.
And we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
While I like the May Day tradition of hanging surprise flowers on neighbors’ doors, I’ve never been into pole dancing — even the old-fashioned kind, with village maidens and men weaving ribbons around a Maypole. Between my five left feet and mild dyslexia, I might wrap myself, my beloved and innocent bystanders like mummies.
Fortunately, this custom no longer holds a central place in spring tradition.
But wild and crazy May bursts with other rituals.
Baby showers bloom on May calendars like tulips. While most guys prefer the pro basketball play-offs, women flock to these events.
Just as well.
Men wouldn’t understand the games — baby food tasting, bottle bowling or stomach-measuring. Guys in my Sunday school class, eavesdropping on our discussion of a baby shower, growled wrathful references to Child Protective Services — till we informed them we played “Throw the Baby” with a baby doll.
Wedding showers also proliferate. But men probably wouldn’t get the design-a-wedding-dress-with-toilet-paper game, either. Nor would they comprehend the thrill we derive from passing around kitchenware.
They don’t realize this is all about new beginnings. Many women have forgotten what it’s like to own toasters that work and dishtowels with recognizable colors. We rejoice in such novel items and the bride’s shiny, brand-new smiles.
Instead, men invent challenges they can’t win: ““Blast! The lawn isn’t growing.”
Whereupon, they apply tons of fertilizer and pray for rain. The grass flourishes, and they complain, “Blast! The lawn’s growing. Have to cut it again.”
They rise from winter easy chairs to wipe out pretty dandelions and violets, the hardiest spring blossoms, and instead, coax flowers that refuse to rise out of bed. They blow budgets on dirt, rocks and … manure.
Proving their rituals are crazy, too.
If May overwhelms with new beginnings, it avalanches with finales.
Education-related events precipitate banquets that explode the calendar. Preschools, grade schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges — all aided by sound systems designed by misanthropes and chicken served in its most unrecognizable forms — distribute tributes and trophies.
Statistics cite May as the month in which ties and control-top pantyhose are worn more than any time of year. After eternal graduation speeches, well-dressed relatives shoot a gazillion fuzzy photos of one special graduate wearing a crooked grin and equally crooked mortarboard.
For the grad and his loved ones, May presents a shifting kaleidoscope of good-byes and fresh dreams.
For me? Breathing in a sweet May morning on my patio, back aching and fingernails dirty from digging into gardens and life, I welcome it all.
Though my five left feet don’t cooperate, my heart can’t help but dance around the Maypole.
Any new beginnings or finales in your May calendar? Are you dancing, too?