When I wrote the following as an entry for my Blog “The Garden of Hope and Mirth,” I did not realize how important the idea of hope for our country would be until recent political events have left so many feeling sad and possibly helpless AND SOME POSSIBLY HOPEFUL. Sometimes the innocence of childhood can put things back into perspective; that being, we all own the right to hope.
Weeds and The Cultivation of Hope
After moving from England to the States, in the 1960s, we settled in Everett Washington. Everett was the city where my father’s Air Force Base, known at the time as Paine Field, was located. The backyard of the home we rented was almost a marshland, very damp. We had a never ending supply of snakes, lizards, frogs, snails (all very harmless) and all the things little boys tend to enjoy and little girls tended to avoid.
My little sister, being very young at the time and being resourceful 5 years old, thought she could put the snakes to good use by using them to practice tying knots, which she had just learned to do and was very proud of herself, for now, she was being able to manage to secure her shoes to her feet by herself, like a “big girl.” However, to her dismay, the knots just were not working out; even though she knew she was doing everything she needed to do to make a knot, the two gardener snakes she had caught and enlisted for the job, were just not cooperating with being tied into a knot. Just as soon as she got one across the other, the snakes would move and undo everything. After several attempts she became frustrated and cried, yelling at the snakes.
My father was the first to hear my sister’s howl of frustration when he went to investigate and saw what she was doing; found it to be very amusing. My mother however, who stepped out a few minutes later to see what all the fuss was about, shrieked in horror, scooped my sister up off of the wet ground and proceeded to take her inside to clean up, as she walked past my father she brandished a very disapproving look his way, while telling my sister to “leave those nasty things alone.”
The poor gardener snakes were just minding their own business, slithering about…
For kids leaving in a very wet area, there were advantages. In addition to all of the creatures, mostly reptiles, there were bodies of water that collected throughout the year forming small and large ponds, and when it got cold enough, those ponds would freeze. The boy who lived across the street had a fairly large pond in his backyard, and when it froze, it became the neighborhood skating rink. No one actually had skates; no one had money for skates, we would just slide around in our shoes in a large circle as if we were at an actual skating rink. It was great fun, occasionally the ice would crack and someone would fall in but it was never deep enough to cause a problem, just really cold wet shoes, socks, and pants.
When spring would come, and the pond began to warm up, life in the pond would start up again. One of the creatures in the ponds was tadpoles which we would collect. We would get used pickle jars; take a rock and a nail and make holes in lids, put the lid back on the jar and place the tadpoles in them submerged with water from the pond.
We would put them on our front porch where we could walk by them daily and check out the progress of the transformation from tadpole to fully formed frog. It was fascinating. Once they were fully fledged frogs, we would put them back in the pond where they came from.
We (three older siblings) did however on one occasion, broke from the tradition of returning the frog directly to the pond when we took one of the frogs and convinced my little sister that putting a frog down my mother’s back would be a good idea (I mean what are little sisters for, if not this, and of course to blame broken things on).
In her trust and wanting to please us, she bought the idea and did just that as my mother stopped down to pick up laundry. The three of us held our breaths our eyes huge in anticipation of our mother’s response. She jumped around a bit, screamed a little bit, worked to get the frog out of her dress, then stood up, looked at my little sister’s innocent face and quickly came to the realization that this was the work of the three older children.
My mother’s response was to tell us to “you kids stop messing around with those frogs.” We were relieved we didn’t get into trouble, but were actually more disappointed, because it seemed so much funnier when people on TV had frogs put down their backs. Oh well, we were amazed we did not get into more trouble, our mother was a pretty good sport about it all.
One of the non-reptilian creatures we had a large abundance of was porcupines. There were only a few dogs in the neighborhood that did not come home with a nose full of porcupine quills at one point or another. Once in a while, we would see a porcupine moving about the wooded area near our home. They were a marvel to look at. But, of course, we knew to not get too close or suffer the same fate as the dogs. Same thing with the skunks, but for a whole other set of reasons as you can imagine.
With the return of the wildlife in the spring, came the return of wildflowers. We loved Buttercups. They were everywhere. They had the ability to turn a green damp marshland into a beautiful array of yellow. We picked them and made bouquets, but they did not last long.
Sometimes lady bugs would be resting on the stem or bud. And of course, you had to say the lady bug chant in unison if you found one…”Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home….” The thing about Buttercups is that if you put the Buttercup flower under another person’s chin, and if the yellow was reflected against the skin on the bottom side of your chin, it meant you liked butter.
Now, this may not seem like much, but as a child, it was a very neat trick. We also put the Buttercups in our hair and button holes for decoration. They were also a staple for the May Day bouquets we would make to leave on door handles.
Along with the Buttercups was wild clover, the flower was purple and spike-like in appearance. As children, we believed you could pull out the purple spikes, suck the bottom and it would taste like clover. We also looked for clover foliage with four leaves, and when we found one, we would be thrilled because they were “rare” and if you had the good fortune to find one, you could pick it, put it somewhere safe and keep it for good luck. If those green clad Leprechauns with the rainbows and pots of gold say they are good luck, then they must be.
Dandelions which were often mixed in with the Buttercups were pretty, but they stunk. So we usually would leave them be until they became spent, went to seed, and left behind a soft transparent globe-like the flower in their place. It was then, that Dandelions took on a whole new purpose, one very different to lending a bright accent of color at a distance. (I know some of you may not have a fondness for Dandelions when they show up in lawns and gardens, and won’t go away, I am with you. But there is a saying that “Weeds are just flowers in the wrong place.”)
These transparent, globe-like flowers left behind by the Dandelion bloom, would dissipate easily when caught by a breeze. They would come apart in what seemed like hundreds of little pieces and fly away into the wind. This made them the perfect vessel for making a wish.
You know who to make a wish don’t you, just put your lips together, pucker up, feel your cheeks with air, hold out a spent dandelion in front of your mouth, think of something you want, then blow with all your might. Tah Dah!!
As children, we did not worry as much about our wishes coming true or the four leaf clovers providing us with good luck as we often forgot what we wished for and did not have a firm grasp of good luck, but we knew we cherished the ability to have wishes, dreams, and hope. And Mother Nature provided us with that opportunity, it was right there, every summer, spring, and fall, like clockwork. And in the winter, well in the winter there was always hope…fingers crossed…that it would snow!