Rain has washed away the snowbanks, awakened the grass, and inspired tulips to reach toward the sky. Sparrows carry twigs to their nests as robins dance across the lawn.
All appear to be jumping the gun given expectations that April will bring at least one more big snowstorm. Kathy, who cannot wait for spring so that outdoor projects can begin in earnest, wants me to get the vegetable garden going.
“We should plant potatoes on Good Friday,’’ Kathy said shortly before the day’s arrival. “Your mother often did that.’’
It was a different era. In the late 1950s and ‘60s. Banks, gas stations and many stores closed by afternoon on the day, but the practice gave way to secular demands.
The Farmers’ Almanac reports that Good Friday planting — like many other traditions — has century-old roots in Europe. Potatoes had just been introduced on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean from South America and many Europeans thought the vegetable might be evil. To protect themselves against devilish harm, growers sprinkled the ground with holy water before planting spuds on Good Friday. Tradition holds that grain and vegetables planning on the day will yield exceptionally well.
Dad took it as promise of a bumper harvest when April snow fell on the heads of emerged spring wheat and oats. Thunder and lightning were good, too, because both fertilized the soil.
When planting bogged down because of a long stretch of rain and cold, Dad bitterly complained that Soviet Union Sputniks and U.S. astronauts mucked up the weather by piercing the fragile atmosphere. It seemed a reason as good as any other to a boy who thought he father to be wise about most things.
Spring is a time for renewal for men and women of the soil. However, its arrival was dreaded at a time when the United States sought to save the nation from the Confederate revolt during the Civil War. Northern men would leave their units without permission to return home to help with spring planting and troop strength was weakened. Army commanders threatened farmers and their sons with desertion punishment. The pull to get back home could not be broken and it was decided that farmer soldiers could leave if they promised to return once planting was done.
Many soldiers in the new states of Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakota territory did not live to see another planting season.
Thomas Jefferson — himself a Virginia farmer — famously said after the Revolutionary War that "those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not.’’ In another vein, the Old Testament’s Isaiah prophesied that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares.’’
Isaiah’s words have yet to be fulfilled.
Farmers’ sons became Doughboys to fight on European battlefields in World War I and returned there and to Southeast Asia for freedom’s sake and to avenge Pearl Harbor. Gold Star parents dreaded the telegraphs and visits from grim-faced authorities. Parents and siblings left with what-might-have-been; pain that eases with time; and memories.
That we may live to see another planting season ought not be taken for granted. In the depths of the 1980s, many farmers were caught flat-footed when their lenders refused them operating loans. With neither fertilizer nor seed, they became bystanders.
There is nothing worse, a farmer who was caught in the mess said to me during that time, than watching someone else till and plant the land that once was yours and land that was meant to be your children’s someday.
“It is as if a part of you dies,’’ he said in the aftermath of losing what was once his.
One who works in unison with the land is blessed in understanding that spring’s promise is indeed kept through work but also from help provided by the creator who brings both rain and sunshine.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.