This offering departs from the usual focus on aging to which I shall return next time. Something in my head demands to be said, hanging on like a song that will not go away. So, here it is.
Spring came early this year, according to the calendar, a season out of season.
I write this in late February, but the usual heralds of spring proclaim that it is here. Daytime temperatures often reach into the 80s. Dogwoods, azaleas, jasmines and daffodils paint yards and forests with springtime blossoms. The red- and pink-winged seeds of southern maples reaffirm the cycle of life.
Last week I heard robins in nearby woods and saw two on a playground. Once there were hundreds on lawns and pastures, filling their craws for energy to fly north and cackling a springtime goodbye. This year's small flock has likely done the same.
Perhaps the early spring should not be surprising. We had no winter to speak of. We had a couple of "cold snaps" — to use my parents' language — not cold enough or long enough for hog killing or to keep down crop pests, mosquitoes and the like. Mild to warm days far outnumbered the cold ones.
People on regional television clearly delighted in the mild weather. It seems that none of them want their activities affected by cold or rain. It would be tragic if any parade, festival or charitable walk/run were to be disrupted. Urban ignorance! Without significant hours of temperature below freezing, fields of sweet onions blossom into seed stems, worthless to farmers and those who depend upon them. Georgia's peach crop depends upon a similar pattern of cold. A cold festival might cost thousands in revenue; a warm January means a loss of millions to Georgia farmers, some of whom will not recover.
Well, it looks like St. Patrick's Day might be downright balmy in Savannah. The only problem for the Augusta National Golf Course during the Masters might be that its banks of azaleas and dogwoods will be bloomed out, past their seasonal glory. Spring came early this year.
I was surprised by the coming of spring. Its early arrival was only part of it. This is the fourth new spring since my darling died. The coming of every new season catches me unprepared, especially spring and autumn with their dramatic changes in color and activity.
How can it be spring without Annette? Or autumn? She defined spring with her vitality, her eagerness to plant and think about the harvest. How can it be autumn with no September song and our shared memories of that season?
How can it be spring? After 60 springs with her, I do not know how to see spring without her.
"Look at that tall dogwood in the head of the branch. It's the tallest one I ever saw, and just full of blossoms."
Who said it? Either one. But then we both saw it, almost as if of one mind, leaving one experience, one memory. Think of 60 years of spring flowers and the thousands of "look-ats" we exchanged and know why I cannot see spring — or any other season — without her. If I force myself to pay attention, I see their colors but not their glory.
How can it be spring? For years, while we were still able, we walked the woods gathering spring flowers: delicate violets, native azaleas called "pink honeysuckle" because of their shape and sweet smell, jasmine and dogwood. We also did it just to be alone together. There was a childlike quality to the things we liked to do.
Even if I were able, I would not again explore the woods in search of wild flowers. What would I do with them? A hundred vases full would mean nothing without her to see them, smell them and smile. She put the magic in those quests for beauty and discovery.
In truth, on occasion I have found some wild flowers in easy reach — golden rod, dogwood, jasmine. I gathered them and mingled them with some from her yard to make up the bouquets that I leave at her grave. That never brings back the magic of the springs we shared, but it helps me remember the wonder of her smile.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.