Springtime memories are extra special

Published 8:01 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

Column: Sara Aeikens, Creative Connections


This year springtime slipped into Albert Lea with less contrasting markers than years past. Dandelions seem more abundant, actually in wild abandonment. They appear in their flattened state of plush-yellow groupings everywhere. Then they grasp to great heights in their final moments as transparent balls of fluffy puffs. Spring is drifting into summer.

Sara Aeikens

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As a curious queen child of our own yard in Minot, N.D., I received a penny for each dandelion I plucked. Taught not to waste anything, we three sister siblings created plaited yellow crowns for our fantasy world. Our scientist dad taught us the reason for getting to the root of any problem, dandelions included, so learning the digging technique to get rid of this prolific flower became my motivation to pick up on this early hint of spring.

Sometime in mid-May, 2012, a group of women around a round table at Albert Lea Senior Center began to reminisce about childhood memories of springtime arrival that we might now, more than a half-century later, consider unique for the children of our community.

The arrival of spring back then meant we could:

• Pick wild strawberries along the cow path on the way to the pasture right next to the three rows of barbwire fence. If we grew tired, we might lie completely flat on grass-covered earth mounds and gaze at blue sky and floating cloud formations we just knew had to be familiar animal shapes.

• Ride our bikes on gravel roads next to the ditch. If we were unlucky, we’d get wet in the few feet of ditch water, especially if we’d spin our tires. Sometimes we’d stop to check to see if we liked butter or a certain boy if rubbing a dandelion blossom under our chin resulted in a bright yellow telltale streak or smeared the reddish stain the first bloodroot wildflower might leave.

• Play with the workhorses on the farm. Our legs were so short we rode doing splits on the horse’s bare back. Sometimes we ended by sliding over the horse’s hind end. The boys once in a while would go into the pens with the calves and try to swing them by the tail, but the calves might end up swinging the boys.

One woman from the Clarks Grove area remembers how much we used our imagination as children. Two of the girls liked to climb up a tree, sit together in the crotch of the limb and think of things to do or just daydream. Swinging from ropes or using a board swing on the same tree or jumping rope became activities involving more action.

Someone mentioned that in New Richland hopscotch and double-Dutch jump rope were a lot of fun to play in the rural areas. Lots of rope jumping wore big holes in shoe soles, which jumpers would painfully notice when they stomped on haystacks and got poked by sharp thistles through the holes.

Sometimes in the spring sunshine a little girl ate a whole loaf of bakery bread at one sitting because it was so yummy. Taking the doodlebug train from Albert Lea to New Richland for 24 cents was a fond recollection of someone who visited her aunt regularly in the rural region.

In Albert Lea, two blocks of Ruble and Green avenues served as a place to play softball in the street. Some of us recall using the clothesline to make tents for playtime dress-up. Then we would add a bit of flair by dressing our pet in doll clothes and a cute bonnet and parade it around in the doll buggy, if the dog or kitty didn’t escape first.

We’d climb hills to pick wildflowers in bloom, to make May baskets a must for delivery. We’d knock on our friends’ doors and run as fast as we could so we wouldn’t get caught. Then we’d go home for a special lunch of wild asparagus and creamed eggs on toast.

Some of us explored coulees and valleys of both North Dakota and Minnesota and found spring in the cool bubbly golden streams that threaded their way through berry bushes. Besides sounds of trickling water, croaks of the toads announced new life in the slough areas now filled with tadpoles and watercress. Baby grasshoppers appeared suddenly and crocuses popped up as springtime surprises. We could hear the song and spot the yellow belly of meadowlarks on fence posts.

The overwhelming fragrance of lilac bushes became an excuse for one of us to just sit under the bush shade and suck up the magnificent perfumed aroma. That haven also provided a playhouse for an 8-year-old make-believe homemaker. During the first signs of spring, she’d trek most days to the hen house, grab two fresh eggs from under mama hen, find a tin can and whip the eggs with a swiped kitchen spoon to create chicken mash. Others created fabulous mud pies.

In town, some would notice peonies blossoming first or tulips or white lilies of the valley. Some of us recall picking fragile hollyhock bells to fashion fancy miniature dolls with clothespin heads. When looking at our feet we might have squirmed at emerging wiggly earthworms with the smell of rain, or even caught the scent of first new mown grass of the season.

Others remember scampering over the railroad tracks behind the seed house on the way home and being greeted by hundreds of monarch butterflies in tall bushes on the side closest to home.

One schoolchild’s teacher asked each student to gather a few pussy willows for the class to color with chalk. Another springtime reminder included getting bikes out. The girls liked to have boy’s bikes and then strip them so the bikes would weigh less. Baskets and fenders would both be taken off. Sunburned shoulders as well as kites signified other signs of spring. Another recalled memories of seining for bullheads from the village dam with siblings.

One woman now in her 30s grew up in the suburbs and could recollect nothing at all special about the coming of spring. She felt that all her friends dressed the same for the season and did the same things that had nothing to do with spring.

Another woman uses the hardware store greenhouse to give her a gradual reminder of spring.

As Skyline Plaza parking lot diminishes in size, curved poles are placed first; then white plastic covering is draped over the metal frame and finally, painted sawhorses are stationed. Bags of soil, boxed flowers and plants have a home and are ready for sale and spring plantings.

Someone from Glenville looked for new growth and lush green, baby birds and squirrels and her favorite rock and oak tree as she walked as a 9-year-old on a special path around her family acreage. Hopefully some of these sensations of movements, smells, sounds and sights will encourage you to share a legacy story with someone special of the memories of spring for you. Enjoy finding your favorites.

Sara Aeikens is a resident of Albert Lea.