The Greatest GiftI don't have many childhood memories at all, and most of the episodes I do remember involve broken teeth or stitches.
But I do have one.
I think of it every year at this time. Outside my window, the dandelions are blooming, bursting with spring, and the newly-green lawns will soon be polka-dotted with them.
I remember a boy in Detroit -- I am not sure how old he was; just a little tot. He lived at 13479 Archdale Street - don't ask me why I remember that address, when I can't remember where I put my car keys.
That boy was me. He still is.
One spring day in the 1960s I was in the front yard -- a small patch of grass on a tight city block -- but everything seemed larger to me then. The dandelions had just poked up through the Irish-green grass. I was amazed -- they had not been there the day before; they had just popped up while I slept, it seemed. A tiny yard that a few weeks ago had been sooty and barren was now my own personal Swiss meadow.
Inspired, I began picking them, one by one, walking back and forth across the lawn to find the very best and brightest ones. Two neighbor ladies walked by. They said, "Good morning, Little Professor, how are you today?" They called me that because from the age of 2, I'd worn thick horn-rimmed glasses with lenses as thick as the bottom of a cola bottle. I hated the name.
"What are you up to today, Little Professor," they asked kindly. I looked up at them, not smiling because I hated them for that name, and said, "Picking flowers for my Mom." They laughed gently and walked on, and now I really hated them. I didn't understand why they laughed at me.
When I had a rich bouquet of dandelions from the yard, I went inside to present my gift to my Mom. She was on the phone when I walked in, but when she saw my flowers she said, "I gotta go, I'll call you back."
"I picked you some flowers," I said.
She stared at me for a minute -- just staring, and then she broke open a smile brighter than the flowers. She hugged me hard and took the flowers and made a big production of putting them in the best vase she could find, with water, and placed them as a centerpiece on the kitchen table, and she said they were the most beautiful flowers she'd ever seen. At dinner that night she talked of nothing else, it seemed. No one else seemed to care much, but she did. And I did.
For a week, the table was adorned with those brilliant blooms.
About 30 years later, she confessed to me that dandelions only last a day or so in a vase, and then whither. She'd been picking new ones every morning to keep that bouquet fresh.
This is the only episode of childhood that I remember so vividly. I remember it because those dandelions from the yard were the most valuable gift I've ever given. And because nature reminds me of this episode once a year by decorating the new lush green grass with brilliant sunny flowers that some people consider to be weeds.
My Mom is gone now, gone to seek her rest. But I hope and pray that where she lay, Spring is eternal, and that there are dandelions on her grave.