Friday, April 17, 2009

FIRST VIOLETS

A huge red haw tree stood near the back door of the house where I grew up. Every spring, that big hawthorn turned white with fragrant blossoms—while the ground beneath the tree became a riot of purple violets. Violets of my effectuating, my personal doing—planted by my own grubby little hands at the blissful age of five. “Your violets, Son,“ Mom would often say, as we sat on the back porch enjoying spring’s warming sunlight. There were hundreds of them, a great circular patch thirty feet across with scarcely a blade of grass or a square inch of bare ground visible between the dense layered mat of round green leaves and purple blooms. Not that much else grew under the haw, anyway, though the ground was rich and dark. “Too much shade,” my father said. The saga of the haw-tree violets began one spring morning when my mother heard me stirring through the barrel of tin cans we kept near the bottom of the steps leading down into the basement. Unlike most of our neighbors, we didn’t burn our household trash. Peelings and scraps were put on the garden or into small holes dug around the yard. Cardboard and paper from packages (which seldom amounted to much) went into the coal furnace. Glass jars were washed and reused. While tins from what few canned-goods we used were collected in the basement barrel (to keep them from rusting) and when the barrel was full, Dad hauled them to the dump. I used old tin cans for lots of projects—everything from making drum sets which I hammered with nerve-shattering abandon, to fanciful body parts for “locomotives” and “airplanes.” The trouble was, I sometimes cut myself on the ragged edges, or got a bit of old tomato soup or chocolate syrup in my hair. This time, I informed my mother, I needed an empty container for some “purple flowers down by the ditch,” which I wanted to bring home. The “ditch” was a tiny seasonal creek which flowed past the far border of the neighbor’s yard. Four foot across at it’s widest, and rarely more than a foot deep, the ditch carried running water perhaps nine or ten months of the year—and often dried up, except for a few deeper pools, in July and August. Nevertheless, the ditch held crayfish, the occasional minnow, frogs, snakes and worlds of endless fascination along its muddy banks. It was also the bane of my mother’s efforts at keeping my clothes clean and dry. Ditches draw small boys the way a cow flop attracts flies. My mother, however—bless her heart!—also loved flowers, and understood the transplanter’s pull of heart. She washed out a couple of old peaches tins, handed me a small trowel, and begged me to try and not fall in more than once or twice. And so, thus equipped, at five years old I set off on my first plant-collecting expedition. I don’t know how many violets I dug up and brought back that morning, but I’d guess not more than a dozen. Doubtless more than a few succumbed to my rough and clumsy treatment—either during extraction or as they were replanted under the haw, where Mom says I insisted on putting them so I could keep an eye on their safety and give them water like I’d watched my grandfather do with his little tomato sets when he put out his garden. Surprisingly, a few violets managed to survive the relocation. In fact, they settled into their new home beneath the haw and thrived—multiplying and spreading exponentially with each and every spring; in time, practically taking over the entire back yard, the side yard, and by the time of my mother’s death a few years ago, a big portion of the front yard. “Those are your violets, Son,” Mom said once again the spring of the year she died. Mom was 94, and suffered from (among many ailments) glaucoma. Though almost blind, she could still see the purple evidence of my youthful escapade. "You planted them, Son," she repeated, and told me once more the oft-repeated story. When she'd finished, she looked out, smiled, and shook her head. "They are so, so beautiful." This morning, walking around the yard near the cottage, I found a small patch of common violets in bloom. Ohhhh… Sometimes all it takes to fill our day with beauty and solace and magic is one moment, a single sight or sound or smell. For me—today—it was these humble little violets. In much less time than it has taken me to tell you this tale, they carried me back all those years to the sweet soft security of home…to an April day of bright sunshine, when Mom and I sat for the last time on the warm porch, and saw a wealth of purple at our feet.
Your violets, Son…

18 comments:

giggles said...

Oh, how beautiful, Scribe...the story and the flowers.... Really.

Violets...one of my absolutely most favoritest flowers...in the whole wide world....

I noticed today, too, spring beauties...another of my favorite harbingers of spring... I just may have to make a midnight raid and transplant a few for my own yard....

Roll call: Chipping sparrow, cowbird pair, and a GOLD male goldfinch. (When did that happen? Last time I spotted them, they were still in their winter drabs!) And a confession, not that the birds mind.... I learned a month ago that I had mistakenly been identifying a Carolina chickadee, as a "black-capped..." Have probably been doing that a good portion of my life.... In Ohio....do you have both or just one kind? (I think I heard both kinds here today....!)

Rowan said...

What a lovely story, the violets and the memories they brought back obviously meant as much to your mum as they did to you. I can feel for her in her efforts to keep you clean, I sent two small boys out every morning to scholl lokking spick and span and every night two raggamuffins returned with their socks round their ankles, their shirts hanging out and streaks of dirt over everything. They had a lot of fun though.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Thank you re. story. It was too long for a blog, I suppose…and I never intended to write at such length when I sat down and began; but, well, posts happen and stories come out as they will.

Haven't seen any spring beauties hereabouts, but I'll bet they're out. I'll have to make a better check.

Around here, the goldfinches really began turning up in yellow summer dress a week or a bit more ago; and I still see them not quite fully changed. So you haven't been too slow to notice…it just happened.

Yes, we have both chickadees, though mostly Carolinas. Right along here is just about the line, too; north it's black-capped, south, Carolinas. So we're in the transition zone, though I do believe that's changing from when I was a kind; nowadays it seems like the black-cappeds are really uncommon.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

I feel so bad now about what my mother must have gone through trying to keep me clean and in clothes not poked ragged by sticks and briars, barbed-wire fences, nails in old barn, crawling around on the basement floor, etc. I pretty much looked and dressed like a rag-picking hillbilly until I got interested in girls and guitars—then I only looked my natural self half the time.

Gail said...

Grizz-

I can hardly type as my eyes are over flowing with tears of joy, and wonderful images of you and your Mom and her wonderful words to you and what those violets mean and all they brought back warmly to you this morning - Goodness I am a pile of warm mush. Thanks Grizz. :-)

This is SO beautiful, such a tribute and to hear more of how you came to love nature so much and gosh, I could go on and on. Yikes!

by the way, My Dad who drove truck was a florist by trade.

Love Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I don't know what to say…

I'm glad you liked the piece.

I was the luckiest kid on earth. I had the two best parents ever. When Dad and Mom got married, they traveled all across the country. Dad was a teacher—and later, after WWII, he turned to finish carpentry because he'd always liked to work with wood. Dad built the house I grew up in, where the violets spangled the yard. Mom and Dad were both outdoor people. Dad fished and hunted. He was a dandy field botanist and could name every flower, tree, shrub, and vine he encountered. He and Mom liked to go wildflowering. Mom loved flowers of all kinds. They also liked to forage—gather pawpaws and walnuts, dig sassafras, pick berries. We made spicebush tea, had hickory nut breads and cakes, wild greens of all sorts, etc. Mom and Dad also loved books and reading. They were both musicians and singers. Dad built two guitars, both of which were at one time played by the great Merle Travis on several radio broadcasts. My father could literally build almost anything from wood.

Moreover, they loved family (both came from large families) and family gatherings—and loved having fun. So I grew up in a great household. I never had that father-son distancing with my Dad; we were always close. Today, April 17th, is his birthday. He was born in 1908 and died in 1983. There's not a day goes by I don't think of him and wish with all my heart he could spend just one day with me here on the river…he would love it so much.

So now you know a little more. Didn't mean to blather on so. Must be the day for it with me.

bobbie said...

What a beautiful post, and a beutiful memory of your youth and of your mother.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

bobbie…

Good memories of good times and days. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for writing and saying so.

KGMom said...

Well, I stopped by, intending to read and not say anything. But the evocative nature of your post pulled me in.
Don't regret the toil you put your mother through. I know that she no doubt cherished every smudge on you or your clothes. She gave you the important legacy. Her noting the purple of the violets as she approached her death, as you indicate, shows that she was happy with the outcome.

Gail said...

Grizz-

ya, you are the luckiest kid on earth. :-) I loved, loved, loved hearing of all your warm family memories. And everything you do, are, is such a tribute to them. You are a living shrine. Your folks are alive and well in you.

My Dad's birthday is April 30th, 1920, and he died October 22nd 1984. I, like you would give anything to have one ore day and I would hop in to one of his 18 wheelers and go for a spin - and then we would sit on our screened porch and he would tell "war stories" from WW11. My Mom, is stil alive and vibrant, almost 86 now. Each day is a treasured git.

And that phrase "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", well look at your picture. It should be plastered right above it.
I so love knowing how you became you.

Gail
peace and now I am bawling again. oh my.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Well, I'm glad you stopped by, read, and DID comment. Thank you. And I know you are right. Mom never allowed much in life to get her down, and even that never for long. She always just laughed about trying to keep me reasonably dry and clean; patched clothes were the norm.

Mom and Dad had their priorities straight. And I don't think either of them ever allowed a day to pass without telling me they loved me and were proud of me, no matter how bad I'd messed up. Which made a world of difference. Home wasn't that house and yard, it was Mom and Dad. A place where the door and their hearts were always open.

All that said…I sure put my folks through the wringer on more than a few occasions.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

You are very kind, very warm, very sweet—and I hope it's okay to say that to you. You are also so right about my folks, and their legacy in me. The funny thing is, some days I'll react to something, think—ho, that's Mom or Dad to a "T"…then realize, nope, that's just me being the son they raised, and I laugh at myself for thinking that I'm so independent and different and my own person. I can't even puzzle over something without quirking my mouth like Dad, or get tickled at something without laughing like Mom.

I as lucky, blessed…and loved. And I wouldn't trade my parents and upbringing for anything.

Jayne said...

What a achingly beautiful story. I am sure she was smiling down as you rounded the corner and saw those first violets.... maybe she sent them. :c)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Perhaps she did, indeed, send them…for I swear they weren't here last spring. I do know I never see these plain old common blue violets without remembering those in my boyhood back yard, and thinking of Mom.

The Weaver of Grass said...

A lovely story Scribe - and although your Mother's sight deteriorated she would still be able to smell them. They are just coming out here too.
When I was small, the railway embankment near to our house was covered in purple and white violets and the smell was almost overpowering. We used to pick them and tie them in small bunches with a thread, surround them with leaves and take them to the old ladies in the village - it was a tradition but I expect it has died out by now.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Yes, she would have smelled them—their rich, lovely scent. I also picked them for her and brought them in the house—and a handful of violets, sitting in a bowl of water on the kitchen table, filled the room with their fragrance.

It sounds a wonderful tradition, that of picking and bringing the tied clumps to the elderly ladies of the village—and if it has indeed died out (which I imagine it has) then everyone connected, and life in that small village, is the poorer for its loss. It is such a shame that so many of the old ways have been put aside and forgotten.

Brenda said...

Scribe, I'm not sure how I stumbled upon your blog here, but peek in from time to time as I find your photos breath taking and the pieces you write soul soothing.

But this time I have to comment. I spent part of my childhood in Ohio ('til age 9, when the family moved west), and some of my fondest memories are going down to the creek (pronounced crick) and picking wild violets, then taking them to my mom. There were so many -- I could barely wrap my small hands around the boquets. Violets mean something to me, and it moved me to find someone else in this world who shared that experience -- right down to the WHO the violets were for (our moms).

Thanks for sharing your pictures and stories.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Brenda…

I'm so glad you read and found a personal resonance in the piece. Violets are indeed something more than just another pretty wildflower to me…and to you, too. Their meaning goes deep to that special time of love and magic and home—and those who loved me then and whose hearts and souls have shaped me into the man I am today.

Thank you so much for writing. I hope you visit, and comment often. You're always welcome. (P.S. Just visited your blog and really enjoyed the quick look. I want to come back and read through your postings. You have some great photos, too.)