by Walt Amses
Were the vernal equinox afflicted with a human frailty, it would likely have multiple personality disorder, particularly in Central Vermont, where spring is inhabited by psychotic swings of personality—a series of ripping nor’easters or summer-like warmth and sunshine, depending on the year or the week. Our oxymoronic fall-back position goes something like “expect the unexpected.”
Spring in Vermont can be as volatile as the great blizzard of 1888 that dropped several feet of snow on most of New England and the eastern seaboard or as soft as a southern breeze on a 70-degree day. But as we frequently learn and sometimes need to relearn, we shouldn’t count on either. Skiers and snowboarders have suffered through early onset spring and a dearth of snow the last couple of years, while this year it’s northern gardeners doing the suffering, wondering when the ground will appear as winter sports aficionados cut class or call in sick to head for the woods.
The arrival of spring also seems to prompt memories of seasons past, at least it does for me. My own spring memories seem to be a pastiche of the ridiculous coupled with the sublime, ranging from vague recollections of involuntary parochial school incarceration on Friday afternoons for Stations of the Cross; my ever-dependable, 1950s Yankees; the warming sun rising over the Atlantic after a night of early season striper fishing at the Jersey shore; or dodging the law while selling buck-a-can beer in Central Park on the first warm afternoon.
But these recollections of springs gone by are mere snippets of time. Images pop up and disappear almost immediately, like being your own Instagram. But there is one exception; one exhilarating sequence that in reality probably took under a minute yet has indelibly etched itself into memory for over 50 years.
My 12-year-old self is walking through a suburban neighborhood on a misty, cool spring morning and reaches a long, sloping patch of lawn between two houses. Quite a distance away, almost obscured by the haze, I see the remains of a circular garden gone by, save a single, red tulip bobbing ever so slightly in an almost imperceptible breeze. I hesitate for whatever reason and glanced at the ground in front of me and there—between the toes of my Chuck Taylors—is a 45-rpm record with a Chess label. Whether it was Chuck Berry or Muddy Waters, I can’t recall.
By now I was cruising blind, on automatic pilot, ceding control to whatever gremlins controlled the 1959 universe as I languidly bent down to pick up the disc. Even though the air wasn’t warm I felt beads of perspiration on the back of my neck as I kicked my left foot out, reared back as though on a pitcher’s mound and with the flick of my wrist, let the record fly. It twirled from my hand, flying off to the right a little, almost skimming a tall pine tree before flattening its trajectory. In thunderous silence, I watched the disc wobble slightly before descending like a stealth fighter on a mission. The tulip never stood a chance but remained erect for a second or two after being severed, finally falling gently into the tangled flower bed. Satisfied, I continued on my way.
Although I’ve thought of it from time to time through decades of springtimes, I’ve never shared that moment with anyone. However mundane or unimportant the episode itself, it remains vivid in memory because of my ironclad certainty of how it would play out. I’ve rarely been so sure of anything since.
And I’ve never vandalized another tulip.