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February Love

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Carol Bossard


February in the Finger Lakes is like a mild case of the flu. Instead of sneezing and coughing, however, our symptoms are less patience with and more grumbles about cold, snow, graupel, ice and slush.  We will assuredly survive, but we are ready for more sun and a few signs of spring.  Yesterday was a good start!   I try to look at winter as a performance and I’m interested to see how the scenes play out.  Will Acts I & II (mid-December- Mid February) bring cold and blizzards, or will it be an open winter with occasional snow squalls and mild temperatures?  The 8 below zero last weekend was  a mean twist in the plot!  After mid-February, we hope Act 3 brings more blue-sky days, occasional signs of swelling buds and a tinge of green in the swamps.   Perhaps the play will conclude early with Mendelssohn’s Spring Song.

This is a month of celebrations - Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Mardi Gras (AKA: Fat Tuesday/Doughnut Day/ Pancake Day), the season of Lent and family birthdays.  In January, one granddaughter turned sixteen, and now, in February, the other will turn nineteen.   Both daughters-in-law, another family member and a couple of long-time friends also celebrate this month.  So, bake the cakes, light the candles, open the cards and be glad for another year of adventures.

Businesses that sell cards, red construction paper, lacy doilies, candy and flowers, rejoice.  According to legend, this holiday exists because of a clergyman, Valentine, who continued to marry young couples in Rome against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius thought young men made better soldiers if undistracted by marriage.  So, he threw Valentine into jail.  From his cell the priest sent notes to friends, signing them “Your Valentine”.  Another bit of lore is that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and sent his “your Valentine” notes to her.  Whichever is true, his name came to be associated with love prevailing against all odds.  Sadly, he was executed for his persistence, becoming a Christian martyr who was then elevated to sainthood by the church and given a feast day in his memory ----- St. Valentine’s Day.

Of course, there are many kinds of love.  In the Greek language, there are at least three options; eros --- the sort of love that leads one into an intimate relationship with another person, phileo --- brotherly love and kindness for a family member or friend, and agape – the sacrificial, all-caring love for all individuals --- for humanity; God’s sort of love.   Tara Shannon’s *Rabbit asked Bear about love: “How do you know when you love someone?” and Bear answers: “When you feel like you’re home no matter where you are.” Bear’s  definition is good for all three kinds of love.

Movies, TV shows and fairy tales often depict love in ways that are mostly unrealistic.  How many girls have waited for their “prince” to come and found that instead of the glass slipper and castle, real love requires patience, accepting differences, balancing a budget, possibly changing diapers for a baby and picking up sneakers from the kitchen floor before scrubbing that same floor.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and several other princesses of lore have set up impossible scenarios for young girls --- and young men too.  What sixteen-year-old boy feels like Prince Charming?    

And how many adults have felt stuck in their roles because of sitcoms?  According to TV, “Perfect” wives vacuum in their best clothes, after which they prepare a gourmet dinner.   “Perfect” husbands sweep their well-dressed wives into their arms when they return home (after having made oodles of money), they mow the lawn regularly and solve everyone’s problems before bedtime.   More recent sitcoms, unfortunately, depict eros as social recreation for the boudoir instead of a commitment to another beloved person.  Feeling comfortable with ourselves and encouraging our loved ones to be who they are ---- that is a more real love than the ephemeral feelings of fairy tale love or the banal and graceless philosophy of free love.

I expect all of us have, when we are young, felt what is called puppy love --- being noticed by the cool guy or girl and, hopefully, being asked out!  It is the glamor of dressing for the prom, the excitement of holding hands at the movies, the quality of a school day that depends on whether “he” or “she” is in class that day.  Those developing, delightful, yo-yo emotions need time to mature.  Pat Boone sang about “April Love,” but I’d call this early attraction “February Love.”   Maybe that’s why there are so many June weddings?  Metaphorically speaking, love needs time and wisdom to mature from springtime to summer.  Happiness does include romance but no lasting relationship is all moonlight and roses.   It is also work, sharing the same values and -- very important ---- finding similar things funny.    Kindness, shared interests, laughter, and a bit of moonlight and roses, smooth the twisty path through life. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!

As I’d planned, I’ve been using this winter to go through boxes and baskets of papers; papers of all sorts and genres.  Some of what I’ve unearthed is family memorabilia.  I’ve found myself wishing once more, that I’d asked more questions when there was still someone alive to provide information.  It takes a few years of living to realize that one’s roots can be exceedingly interesting.   Their importance does NOT necessarily lie in discovering a coat of arms, eligibility for the DAR or even being related to Pocahontas or King Henry VIII.  We each contribute our own value to this world.   But knowing about my forebearers gives me a sense of belonging, and I am grateful.  One of my favorite quotations explains this:  “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.  Be still they say.  Watch.  Listen.  You are the result of the love of thousands.**” Every time I read this, I feel loved, connected, and grateful that I am part of a special group of people.

We do know a little, for one of my brothers explored some of our genealogy.  We knew that my maternal ancestors came from France, but we’ve recently learned that they probably made the hard trek from there to Canada, and then to the United States ---- ten or twenty years before the Revolutionary War.  We believe they were part of the sad exodus from Canada, when the British took control from the French, as mentioned in Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline.  My father’s paternal ancestors were Highland Scots who probably came to this country either after the Jacobite Rebellion (1747) or when the lairds selfishly uprooted families and threw them off the land to make room for more sheep (1810-1820).  I’d have to check on dates, but there is usually an economic or life-threatening reason for leaving one’s land of birth.   Along the way, I acquired a Dutch great- grandmother and a German grandmother.  This makes me quite a mixture, and gives me a better sense of who I am.   But I’d still like to know more ---- about “Uncle Abner Dusett” who I’ve heard, grew fields of carrots on his farm. I’d like my mother’s perspective on the 19th Amendment; she was 22 when it became law.   Was “Grandma Allen” really related to Ethan Allen?  And how did my paternal grandmother survive being widowed, with two very small sons, in a day when there were few jobs for women?  You, who still have older members of your family, take note, and ask questions!  History will come alive with stories.

My gardening gene is definitely an inherited trait although I wouldn’t have thought so when I was nine and sent out to pick green beans.  My mother’s gardens were amazing; I wrote an article about them that was published in Flower and Garden Magazine some years ago.  She moved from a veggie garden (after most of her children grew up) to transforming swaths of land around her home with herbs, flowers and shrubbery.  Working in the garden was her joy, and even though, in her later years she was legally blind, she gardened until the snows came in her 94th year.  When she died the following February, we found her flower orders ready to be sent.   

One of the fun things ---- for me ---- about gardening, is planning, and I think that may have been true for her too.  After her death, I found several detailed garden plans drawn and labeled in her fine script.  Visualizing color combinations brightens my January and February.  My garden plans tend to change a time or two before planting season.  Then, about mid-June, they are altered again, depending on what didn’t germinate, what the rabbits ate and what cool plants I’ve discovered at Early Bird, Baker’s Acres or Iron Kettle. This year, will be a whole new exercise in creative cutting back.   

Hal Borland*** said: “Spring advances northward at approximately 16 miles per day; roughly 100 miles per week.  This applies only to even ground though.  When one begins to climb, then northward pace slackens, since Spring moves uphill only about 100 feet per day.”   An enthusiastic mathematician could visit Washington D.C. during cherry blossom time and then ascertain when trees might be blossoming in Albany, New York.  I think I’ll just watch the cats.  When they begin racing around the lawn and dancing on the picket fence, I’ll be quite sure spring is coming closer.  Meanwhile, February gives us time to make valentines, fry doughnuts and plan gardens as the snow filters down outside the windows and the cold winds blow.  It is good to let people know we love them via valentines.  It is a pleasure to use my grandpa’s doughnut recipe (for Doughnut Day, of course) as a once/year treat.  And there is great satisfaction in visualizing a garden by the fireside.  No bugs, no weeds and beautiful blooms!


Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*Tara Shannnon ---American writer, poet and artist.    

**Linda Hogan -----American writer and TV personality.

***Hal Borland ----American naturalist, writer and journalist.  1900-1978.


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