Dandelions and Rhubarb

When I was a little girl, and always wanting something to do, sometimes on hot summer afternoons, My Sweet Mama would send me out to fetch a collection of dandelion stems.

“Get the longest ones you can find,” she would say, and away I would go to find the exact thing that she asked for. I suspect that she would “make hay while the sun shone” (as she sometimes put it) and got some short jobs tackled while I was out there pulling stems, but eventually I would return with some stems that she deemed good enough.

She would fill a short jar with cold water, and then she would select a sturdy stem and carefully make two half-inch slits in one end of it, making four little loose sections at what was now the bottom of the stem. She would blow into the other end to be sure that it was unobstructed, then she would put the cut end of the stem into the water and blow a steady breath into the other end, making a delightful noise as the bubbles rose to the surface around the stem.

It was so exciting, to see Mama start these little things for us. We would blow vigorously into the end of our very own miracle toy and watched the bubbles rise with fascination. As the bubbles rose, the small pieces of dandelion began to curl up and over themselves in the most satisfying fashion. It would form the most delicate curls that would hang in round perfection off the bottom of a common green stem. We could use up many a long, hot hour with our homemade diversion.

This week, my sister in law, Rose, gave me an armload of rhubarb. I brought it home and stuck it upright in a tall container overnight. Yesterday, I cleaned it and trimmed it and put it into my big sink in water, while I cut it up and got it ready for the freezer for pies and rhubarb sauce. It was magnificent!!!

We had just gotten home after 6 days away, and I kept getting diverted from my task by various “homecoming rituals.” Some of the stalks of rhubarb lay in the water longer than expected. I came back to the sink and found my rhubarb starting to curl in a very familiar way. I found myself suddenly transported to a cement porch step on a hot summer afternoon, and wondered at the lurch in my heart.

I tried to shake the tugging memory by wondering if Rhubarb and Dandelion are related somehow, and examined the stems of the rhubarb as I diced them into a measuring container for pies. My examination of the stems revealed the familiar looking curls, but a solid center. They really aren’t related, I decided, and finished the chopping and bagging and freezing.

The memory kept dogging me today, though, so I decided to go and try to find some dandelion stems and make some curls. It’s been years, but I haven’t forgotten how to do it. “I’ll just pick me a few stems, and see if the curls are as similar as I thought,” I said to myself after lunch was over, and headed out the back door.

I stopped just outside the garage in the hot summer sun. It felt oppressive, and I felt like I could hardly breathe. I took a quick look over our lawn, and not seeing a single speck of yellow, looked again. Not a single dandelion anywhere. We haven’t waged war against dandelions in our yard, but Certain Man’s careful manicuring has made them non-existent. I felt strangely disappointed that there were none to be had, but escaped back into the cool of my kitchen and got ready for my afternoon intermediates Sunday School class.

I’ve thought happily about my innocent, carefree, childhood and the path my life has taken and the curlicues of the side roads and detours. I thought about the memories that are so good and about a Mama who would stop her work to blow dandelion curls with her children. I thought about the world in which my grandchildren are growing up and I wished for them Rhubarb pies and Dandelion curls on hot summer evenings.

And then I know . . .

They will have their own recollections of childhood, and will trace those memories some day. They are growing up in a totally different time, to be sure, but this Grammy prays that when memories come crowding in on a random Sunday afternoon, they will be remembered with a gladsome and grateful heart. And I add another prayer that part of those memories will be of a Grammy that not only prayed for them, but also loved them fiercely.

My heart gives humble, grateful praise that I can call them “mine!”


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