April 4, 2013

I think it was the daffodils that sold me on April Fool’s day.

Growing up in Montana, where the wind howls over the prairies and winter temps dive down into negative double digits, you sometimes have to wait a good long time for your spring flowers. Smart gardeners plant their bulbs close to their houses if possible so that the warmth from the house would encourage blooms sooner. Unfortunately, not everyone has flower beds next to their house, and our daffodil bulbs, planted between the backyard fence and the sidewalk leading from the house to the garage, were always the last in our neighborhood to bloom.

On April 1, when I was in grade school, we woke up to see a row of sturdy, bright yellow daffodils in full bloom growing along that sidewalk. Well, not growing so much as “growing” because they were plastic. My mom’s good friend had sneaked into our backyard in the early morning to share some plastic sunshine with us. Once we figured out the trick (and it didn’t take long, in the chilly Montana April) we laughed and laughed. But for those few seconds before we caught the joke, we had beauty and astonishment, an unexpected gift.

It was the sort of trick that put a smile on everyone’s face, a kind and clever trick that involved elements of wonder instead of meanness. It was the sort of joke that required good friends, an old-fashioned neighborhood where people knew each other’s business, and one family’s powerful longing for flowers and springtime. I know most jokes don’t get these ideal conditions, and I  know April Fool’s Day can be mean. I know that even when it isn’t, there are decidedly legitimate reasons for not liking surprises.

But every year, even when the year is a bad one, I pause on April 1 and think about daffodils, and remember the wonder.


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