This is that week.
There’s one day every fall where I feel like I’ll never be warm again. I know that the earth is becoming dormant, gradually descending into what feels like eternal darkness, and I hate it. For months, when there is some semblance of light, it’s either snow or grey. Because I can’t hibernate, I just have to suck it up and dress like the Michelin man until the equivalent day arrives in the spring.
The spring equivalent day generally arrives sometime around the vernal equinox, generally around March 20th, when I actually FEEL hope in my soul. The days are getting longer, there’s light and blue replaces grey in the sky. The sun feels warm again instead of mocking me by peeking out for about 30 seconds per day, and part of the snow has melted. My cousins down south are already posting pictures of tulips on Facebook.
If I look hard in the garden, in polka dot areas where the snow had already melted, I can find something resembling spouts from a plant peeking up.
A robin is staring down at me from a tree branch, and the Sandhill Cranes with their squeaky-gate-hinge cries are complaining loudly because they can’t get to the grasses through the snow in the field behind the house.
Groggy raccoons, skunks and possums are waking up, VERY HUNGRY and staggering around like drunken sailors on their first shore leave. Squirrels are excitedly scampering across the porch, tails held high, retrieving last fall’s nuts.
Hope is in the air.
My body aches less and I cherish any tiny spot of color.
Yesterday, tiny red succulents, above, just an eighth of an inch across poked their heads out, and today, my daughter messaged me early crocus photos from bulbs newly planted last fall. At least there are a few that didn’t serve as chipmunk food. I’m hopeful that my bulbs will emerge shortly.
I am desperate for color and flowers like the most addicted junkie.
It’s also this time of year that I harken back to my childhood and recall those long-ago springs of yesteryear. Life just seemed so much simpler and happier then.
Some of my fondest memories are of pink Easter dresses and white patent leather shoes with lacy anklets. I had to wear white gloves to church, but I didn’t care because Easter Sunday, new dresses and wearing gloves made me feel special. Sometimes, I had an Easter hat too, and a new spring coat, if it was a good year. Springtime rituals connected to the re-emergence of Mother Earth.
It was so liberating to shed those old depressing winter clothes and skip along the sidewalk once again, relishing spring green, cherry blossoms and warm breezes.
To me, spring is the most joyful time of year – when my soul sings out loud because nature is exhilaratingly beautiful and fresh. Everything comes alive in a chaotic rush of optimism. Even dandelions are welcome, because they are alive, bright and yellow. Yes, I’m just that desperate, waiting like a kid at Christmas for the first dandelion of the season.
For some reason, this time of year, I always think about spring traditions when I was a child. Perhaps spring elicits these feelings because we didn’t visit much in the winter. Roads were slick and treacherous, and the time between Christmas and warm seemed interminable and difficult.
As winter began to yield its icy grasp, I vividly remember Sunday rides to purchase maple syrup and visit my grandparents. At grandmother’s house, birds began chirping as I listened through freshly opened windows at the drip drip of melting snow splashing around the house, before houses had eavestroughs and downspouts.
My grandparents’ house had a magical quality, and I always looked forward to some special activity with my grandmother.
Sometimes we baked cinnamon sugar pie dough in the bottom of a pie pan.
Sometimes she “let” me dust her dining room shelves. It’s amazing what you can convince a child to do if you tell them it’s a special honor. I’ve tried that tactic with my husband and kids, and it never worked!
Today, the salt shakers that I used to dust on her shelf are in my display case, chosen by my grief-stricken 4-year-old self as a memento when she suddenly died in the depths of winter-hell.
Sometimes we walked around the yard and looked for the first daffodil and the Easter Bunny. I always knew right where to look for the daffodils, but that Easter Bunny always managed to elude me! However, I did often find a basket he somehow left behind, hidden beneath the Spirea bush, along with some telltale colored eggs! I never did understand how a male rabbit could lay colored eggs, but I digress…
The best times were when my grandmother and Mom and I retrieved the old box of pictures from the attic. Sure, we had sorted through them many times before, but it was always just so much fun.
I asked questions, often the same questions I had asked before. I loved hearing the tales that made the pictures come alive. Mom or my grandmother would tell me the same story over again, sometimes each interleaving sentences with the other – often injecting some new twist or wrinkle. Of course, it was up to me to catch the change and ask a million or so questions.
One particular picture was always sure to cause peals of laughter. We all anticipated it and looked forward to it peeking out from under the pile.
Mom, with a wink, always made up a new story to go with the picture.
I couldn’t wait to find that photo under the others, but it would have been cheating to rifle through, so I tried to wait patiently until it appeared.
When my Mom was young, cameras had film rolls that you loaded onto a spindle. After you took a picture, you had to advance the film using a lever or knob, or you would take a second picture right over the first one. That’s called a double exposure, and it wasn’t a good thing. First, you’d ruin both photos, and you wouldn’t know until you paid to have them processed and printed, often weeks or months later.
By comparison, digital photos today are wonderful.
Mother danced – tap and ballet with some gymnastics thrown in. I think today that’s called expressive dance, and she was always practicing. Everyplace, all the time.
Even in the yard. She and a friend named Mary Lu lived in the same small town and danced together. Both eventually turned professional, as in the American Ballet Company, not exotic, in case you were wondering.
In the spring, they too felt released because they could free themselves by practicing outside.
My grandmother alleged as how spring freed her too. Incessant dance practice wasn’t exactly quiet. My grandfather spent a lot of time in the barn with the chickens.
In 1933, the family acquired their first (used) camera, in trade for chickens from someone who had nothing else to pay with. My grandfather took almost anything in trade during the Depression. In fact, if you couldn’t pay, he would give you what you needed anyway, which is why his hardware store went bankrupt.
A few years later, my mother was allowed to very occasionally use the camera. After all, film and processing was an expensive luxury, and the Great Depression was still in full swing. In fact, it never ended in their minds. Everything was always an unnecessary expense. That terrible dozen years of hardship and fear left an indelible mark on both generations.
Just the same, Mother and Mary Lu commenced taking pictures, but the number of photos they were allowed was strictly rationed.
Pictures had to be planned very carefully! There were no autofocus tools like today and any small movement caused a blurry picture.
Some weren’t entirely in focus.
While Mom had to practice the traditional tap and ballet routines, her joy came from “custom” rather “outrageous” dance routines that combined the two, plus moves and steps of her own not choreographed by either dance style.
Mother said she and Mary Lu danced in the yard and on the sidewalks of the tiny crossroads village of Silver Lake, as well as on the porch – desperate to be released from the winter confines of a house. The Spirea is blooming in this picture, so I know it’s spring.
Much sought after dancers for their unique performances, they often practiced dual or difficult routines in the grass, because falling outside was softer than on hardwood floors. No one had carpet then and gymnastic pads simply didn’t exist.
The first photos went pretty well.
Until they forgot entirely about winding the film.
I’m not sure exactly why we thought this picture was so funny. Perhaps it was the way that Mom whispered about her doing handstands on her own “behind,” much to my amazement. Like we girls were sharing something super-secret.
Today, this photo belongs to me, and I still can’t look at it without laughing, along with bittersweet memories.
I can hear Mom’s voice in a far-away room. I can see the three of us at the table and hear the rustling of photos in that old cardboard box. I can eavesdrop on the various stories about what this picture was, and how it happened.
Maybe it was Mary Lu who had to walk on her hands, standing on Mom’s behind. Maybe it was when they performed for the circus. Maybe the story didn’t matter, just the fact that we were having so much fun together – three generations at the old wooden table with the rickety chairs, now in my attic.
Maybe it was because I lost my cherished grandmother soon after, and suddenly, there were no more days at the table, sitting in her lap.
I can hear, distantly, over the span of half a century, my grandmother admonishing mother with a smile, “Now Barbara Jean…” when mother made up a particularly good story. Then we laughed, all over again!
I think, in truth, my Mom and grandmother were just amazed at how well this silly mistake turned out. Lemonade out of a lemon.
When I saw this picture, I always imagined my Mom daydreaming in the springtime about dancing on the big stage – which she went on to do, professionally.
Somehow seeing my beautiful mother’s dreamy young face gave me permission as well, along with the courage to risk making mistakes. I had no idea then how courageous mother actually was.
Afterwards, I would always run outside and dance in the yard. Spinning, doing pirouettes, falling down. I was terrible, but it didn’t matter, because I was doing it with all of my heart and inspiration, unafraid and entirely unphased by potential failure. Failure was only in not dancing.
I still approach life that way today.
We got so much mileage out of that “mistake.”
Whoever would have thought that it would transcend 5 generations.
I’ll be sharing this picture and story with my granddaughters this weekend. Hope and inspiration in this season of renewal seem appropriate attributes to infuse into future generations. One could even argue that perhaps this is the most important legacy my mother could have left – all through a “mistake.”
Clearly, it was no mistake. I’d rather call it divine inspiration or unrecognized potential. Mistakes are often only a matter of perception.
What is your favorite joyful family photo that makes you laugh or inspires you, and why?
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