Sweet memories of spring

Published 4:26 am Saturday, March 7, 2020

“Remind me what spring feels like.”

That was my prayer this morning. Even though we have had a mild winter this year, the heavy clouds and shorter days can take a toll on my spirit.

Now that we’ve entered the month of March, there is a different scent in the air. We’ve had short sleeve shirt weather the past couple of days. I see more of my neighbors walking their dogs, stopping along the way to visit with each other. Children are playing ball in the grass and riding hover boards in the cul-de-sac.

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Spring as a child meant going barefoot for the first time in months. I’ve always felt freer when I could go barefoot. I can’t really explain it, I just feel my body breathes better and I am more at ease when my feet are free from the constriction of shoes.

We went barefoot from spring through late fall, except when we had to go to school. I remember how tender my feet were when I first left my shoes behind after a long winter. I loved the feel of the cool soft grass on my feet and feeling the wet dirt seep between my toes. It may sound foolish, but it was pure pleasure to me.

Walking on the grass was one thing, but walking across the dirt and gravel road barefoot was another. I remember wincing as the harshness sunk into the bottoms of my feet and reminding myself that in just a few days I would toughen up that tender skin, grow calluses and be able to walk even in the fields without much concern.

My grandfather raised a tobacco crop.  In September, Mom would chop the stalk of tobacco off near the ground so we could haul it to the barn. We made a game of walking from one hard leftover stock in the ground to the next, trying hard not to cut our feet and not to fall. We would see who could go the farthest down the row, balancing better than any tight rope walker seen on TV.

In the spring, we would walk the stubs of stocks in the tobacco field, balancing the same. Except after a long winter, the stubs were softer and gave way under our weight. Maneuvering this homemade balance beam was a whole different challenge. Our feet were like those of a newborn baby and we had to tenderly, gingerly move with perfect precision across the slippery, weather soaked stubs in order to not slide off.

Spring also meant helping our grandfather burn the weeds off the fields. Each child would be given a burlap sack.  When Grandpa set fire to the weeds we were each given a section of the field to supervise.  The burlap sack was meant for controlling the intensity of the blaze by hitting the fire out if it started to spread beyond our perimeters. Nowadays, environmentalists would tell us that burning off weeds isn’t a good technique to use and social workers would say this is too dangerous for children to be involved in. But to us it was sheer fun.

I remember the smell of earth worms and mud after the rain. As spring progressed and the early rains had subsided, Grandpa harnessed Old Jack, the workhorse, to the plow, turning the ground up into pretty light brown ribbons.

We loved walking the newly plowed field and feeling the cool clumps of dirt under our bare feet. We’d try to see how large a clump of dirt would have to be before it sank under our weight.  But then we’d be fussed at, “Get off of that field! You’re gonna harden the dirt and make it more difficult to disk.”

That was a sad situation because walking on the soft loose dirt after disking was especially pleasurable. In this state the dirt felt like walking on powdered sugar. Our feet would sink in like we were walking on a cloud.  Sometimes, I’ll confess, we still walked on the disked dirt, but only on the edges of the field.

Spring is a magical season. It causes me to remember the freshness of life and the promise of hope. That’s why I loved the prayer that came to me this morning, “Lord remind me what spring feels like.”

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.