Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beautiful flowers and hard lives

My father-in-law, Jim Johnson of Verona, Mo., is a great storyteller. Mind you, I would have married his daughter regardless. But knowing Jim -- especially walking in the woods or across a field or up a mountainside with him -- is something I've treasured for more than 25 years.

This essay he wrote is one reason why. He e-mailed it to me this morning with the instructions "use it, don't or giggle and pitch it." Well, I'm using it. Enjoy:

I always have twinges of sadness around this time of year.
Everyone is jubilant about the advent of spring and advocating walks in the woods.
I was an avid turkey hunter for many years until the sport became so oversold that you were taking your life in your hands to attempt it. There are way too many poorly prepared, educated and motivated "hunters" that treat the sport as a contest, not between man and animal but between man and man. But I digress.
The sadness comes from strolling through the woodlands of the Midwest and finding beautiful patches of jonquils, iris and tiger lilies.
Most folks don't stop to think of the origin of these spots of beauty.
They are all the result of some, generally, young woman with high hopes for the future bringing what little beauty she could afford to brighten the area around the homestead that her husband has founded. Many of these dreamers could only take "starts" from her Mother's yard elsewhere. In many case her Mother was many miles away and the dreamer was alone trying to do the best she could in a hostile environment. Not hostile in the form of angry Indians or savage beasts but in the form of day to day, week to week and year to year drudgery in an attempt to carve a home, alongside her husband, for her family.
As seen by the numbers of the failed farms marked with beautiful flowers, most of them were unsuccessful.
I used to stand in the midst of this spring beauty and estimate the distance she would have had to go, probably on foot because horses were a luxury, to simply find the company of another woman. I could seem to feel the desperation of a young woman, forced by circumstance, giving birth in the never ending attempt at producing another farm hand to help the family survive. One such house place had an enclosed area not ten feet square bounded by field rocks that contained seven little flat stones driven into the ground. No names or dates because tools to do such luxuries were uncommon. Seven failed attempts to expand herself and her husband into a family. A family that was doomed to disappear because it could not survive with only one worker outside of the home.
My only consolation is that here are towns, now only minutes away but at the time hours or days away, that grew steadily during that period of time. I hope that many of these young women from the failed homesteads were able to attain some comfort, dignity and stability by moving to such towns. Even if such moves followed years of desperate drudgery.
I have frequently dug some of the flowers and taken them to my home so that the young women's efforts might live on in a place where their beauty could be appreciated.
The next time you are in a wooded or "wilderness" area and see a small grouping of domestic perennials that are in bloom think about the hopes and dreams of a young woman that they represent. If it's in an area where is allowed, take a "start" home in honor of her efforts.