Monday, May 2, 2011


     I took a whack at my grandfather’s long spring habit the other day, and it was as satisfying for me as for it was for him.
He lived in a small New York village called Spring Valley, pre-World War II, at the corner of Ternure and Summit. The property was not quite big enough for two lots but still larger than the standard single-family plot. There was much lawn to trim.
And it was a fine lawn, doing well without modern, expensive fertilizer,  mowed by hand with a reel mower kept sharp by the self-taught mechanic that all homeowners had to be in those days. My grandfather was meticulous at keeping his lawn neat and trimmed. Perhaps it gave him relief from stress after working all day in a smoking pipe factory (Briarcraft), a Depression time job never secure. 
Every spring, early on, my grandfather would take a whack at the dandelions that popped up like smiling lollipops mocking the landowner. They were not welcome, on the lawn or in the cracks of the sidewalk that ran 75 feet one way and 50 more around the corner. The man would get on his hands and knees, and using a well-sharpened, old paring knife, he would insert the blade into the ground, circle the roots and pull out the entire dandelion. At the sidewalk, he would tilt the blade to remove dandelions and strips of moss between the cement slabs. He’d pile these up on the walk, and his young grandchildren (there were five of us) -- whoever was visiting at the time -- collected them and piled the debris alongside the garage foundation. I don’t think any of us have ever forgotten such moments.
My grandfather did not speak much, cutting dandelions or not, but he did tell us that his own grandfather, which would have been Robert, the first of our Gunthers to hit American shores from Prussia about 1848, made dandelion wine. My grandfather made root beer.
Standing in front of my own home the other day, in this spring of sudden blooming, I saw many dandelions. And I had a whack at them, too. But with a hand-held sickle. I don’t have my grandfather’s patience for digging out the plants, and this is a faster-paced world anyway. But I do have four grandchildren, two so very far away in Texas, two much closer. None were about 
-- I said it is a busier time -- so I played that part as well, dumping the debris in the woods.
I am thankful, though, that there are times -- dandelion season or not -- when we can all be together under one roof, an entire family. Never seems to be any weeds then.

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