Tag Archives: springtime in Kentucky

February Blues

 

Ah, the end of February, the drowned rat of the calendar year.  We have just about floated away, with endless rain for days upon days.  But we might just have easily had snow and sleet for the month, or days as gray as dishwater for weeks on end, all likely possibilities for this, the shortest month, and thank goodness that it is only twenty-eight days long.

It’s sad, really, how tough this month is on most of us.  We even have two holidays, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, and you think this would ease the pain, but no. When

I was a child, we had three holidays, because Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Washington each had their own special day, although everyone worked and went to school, and mail was delivered.

There were stories of log cabins and splitting wood, and that other axe, the one that cut down the cherry tree, even though, honestly, no child ever believed deep-down that little George ever uttered the phrase, “I cannot tell a lie.”

  A very small child might confess, all sobbing and hiccuppy at getting caught, but no child big enough to wield an axe and do that kiind of damage would ever cop to it, no child you would want to be friends with, at any rate. To support my point, an example.

To this day no one has confessed to eating the last piece of pumpkin pie at my house, the Thanksgiving I was eight.  Even though the culprit left behind irrefutable evidence in the pie—a perfectly formed and precise impression of the culprit’s teeth.  The culprit must have been disturbed during the event, had heard someone coming and scampered down from the chair that allowed him or her to reach the pie in the first place, up there on top of the refrigerator. 

No one confessed, even when the father lined all the children up and placed the half-eaten piece up to four innocent mouths and one guilty one, even when the culprit was thus discovered. 

The mouth that held the teeth that matched the pie twisted in a grimace of indignation, and through protestations,  he or she wept in a slobbering fit of uncontrollable rage at the audacity and injustice of not being believed. Stomped around the house, escalating, until the rest of the family grew bored of laughing at him or her and ignored the culprit completely.

So, no, I don’t believe George Washington confessed, and, in fact, I came to doubt the whole cherry tree story in its totality.

We put up with this Washington silliness at Longfellow Elementary because there were cupcakes the last half hour of school and some sort of cherry cobbler in the school cafeteria for lunch.

February tries us, but it does some things for us, too. It brings us slowly lengthening days, seed catalogs, stacks of rakes in the racks that once held snow shovels, and gas grills and lawn mowers making their slow march from storeroom to showroom.

February gives us a reason to binge-watch TV, read big books, work complicated jigsaw puzzles, or do nothing much at all.  February helps us get ambitious in spring by making us good and bored in late winter. February teases us, or reassures us, with a few warm days here and there, spring-like afternoons with showers and puddles and gusts of wind.  February reminds us there are only a few more weeks when we might reasonably expect snow.

Then March, the lion or the lamb, bringing us crocus, daffodils, hyacinth, the first curled fingers of hostas breaking the ground.  The buzz of activity in greenhouses, and we stop by, even though the geraniums and herbs aren’t ready yet, stop by just to smell the loamy, peaty composty aroma that signifies new life about to burst from jute pods the size of Dixie cups.

February, we love to hate ya, but you do serve a purpose.  We will try to remember that, a year from now, when you roll back in.

 

Saying Goodbye

Last week I said goodbye to an old, dear, friend…the first friend in my circle to leave us, and as it is with all such loss, it happened too soon.

Otis L. Griffin, of McLean County, was a civic leader, a large-scale farmer, the husband of my high school pal, Donna. He was a man who gave ballast to our social group and he was my friend.

From the scores of people who came to his visitation, it’s clear he cast a wide net in the friendship department. The line for those waiting to pay their respects snaked out into the hall of Muster Funeral Home. So many came, so many shared stories. So many needed, by their presence, to say how Otis had touched their lives.

I first met Otis in my late twenties—I think it was my twenties—when I and my contemporaries were easing into adulthood. We had jobs and car payments and thought ourselves quite something. Otis was a little bit older, a full-fledged adult compared to our apprenticeship status and he helped show us what grown-ups looked like.

When Donna and Otis started dating he slipped easily into our group, this big guy with quiet ways, one who wore suits on evenings out. Dapper, yes; stuffy, never. I can recall almost nothing of those early days except that we laughed all the time. We had “coming out” parties when someone brought home a potential mate, and I am not sure that it wasn’t Otis who orchestrated an Olympic-style number rating the evening Margaret brought home her future husband to meet us all.

She and Woody were late getting to the party and, as idle hands are the devil’s workshop, we improvised rating cards to hold up when they walked through the door.
Or maybe that little caper was my idea. I know it was Otis who told Woody, “I gave you a 9.5 but then you started talking and I had to drop it to a 6.”

Woody is a funny guy, too, and they were friends from that day forward.

Otis told me once he was in the habit of going to funerals, made it point to do so. He made a special effort if it was some forgotten soul with no one to be sorry he was gone. We always figured he liked funerals.

No, he told Donna. He didn’t like funerals, but it was the right thing to do. To bear witness. To show respect.

And that is who he was. A stand-up guy, Donna would call him. A traditional fellow, one who honored the earth, served on the school board. A father and grandfather. A protector.

When his two youngest children were little, Donna and I packed them up to drive to Hattiesburg, to see Margaret and Woody and their little one. Otis was staying behind, farming, and as we were loading the car, he was uncharacteristically cranky.
I asked him what was wrong.

“I don’t like it. You are taking away my babies.”

Their mother, I must point out, was in the front seat. It was just that he wouldn’t be there, and me in the driver’s seat was no substitute.

Funerals are sad, but they are homecomings, too. I so enjoyed reconnecting with Otis’s children, Lance and Jennifer and their spouses, and seeing their sweet babies, all grown or almost so. And Caitlin and Sage, the toddlers from that long-ago trip, who are stepping out and into their own bright futures. The Griffin children, all of them lovely and lovable adults. And the next generation of Griffins well on their way.

They have lost a sturdy pillar of their family, but they have not lost their compass. Otis had a way of imparting wisdom and giving guidance without you even knowing it. I learned from him every time we were together. His lessons were quiet, but deep. Otis himself, embodied True North.

The funeral procession meandered along Hwy. 136 amid the redbud and dogwood blooms. Cars pulled over as we passed by the farmland Otis worked, loved. A procession so long the first cars often disappeared around a distant bend as the last cars worked to keep up, like a game of crack the whip. The little country cemetery couldn’t hold us all.

It was, as the Rev. Jim Midkiff reminded us, as far as we could go with him now.

So, Otis, we love ya and we will miss you. But don’t you worry. We will keep loving this family and each other. It’s easy for us. We have some advantage. You have shown us how it’s done.