He is still crouched in the shadows, flinging cold temperatures and a few snowflakes about. We awakened to a skift of snow, but sunshine has already put it to rout. The air is icy however, and the March wind makes it seem even colder. I am cheered up by one of Mom’s old maxims, “Spring will come—it always has!”
The bird feeder is swinging in the wind, but it doesn’t seem to deter the bright cardinals as they perch on the ledge and continue to feed. A blue jay crowds his way in, while the smaller birds feed on the ground where the seeds are scattered. Brown leaves still scudder across the yard, where grass is growing greener each day. The land is changing seasons.
St. Patrick’s Day is here, and there is a saying that on this day, everyone is Irish. I have always been fascinated by everything Irish. When I was just a young’en in grade school, I read a book titled, “Sean O’Day, a Boy in Ireland,” or some such title. I fell in love with Ireland then. Since my maiden name was “O’Dell”, my heart’s desire was to visit Ireland.
My Aunt May O’Dell Hungerford was lucky enough to go there. She had researched our family name and discovered that the O’Dell family had left Ireland during the potato famine, and gone to England. They lived there for a hundred years, and then emigrated to America. She also found an “O’Dell castle” in England.
I corresponded with Helen Lykins Reed (lots of people remember her husband, Jake Reed who taught math at Clay County High School for years) for some time. She wasn’t well at the time, but wrote that she was realizing her lifelong dream of going to Ireland. She wrote, “I figure this will be my swan song, as I am off for Ireland for two weeks starting Saturday. My mother’s people came from over there during the potato famine, and I’ve always wanted to go there.”
Her next letter came after her trip to Ireland, and she was bubbling over with her descriptions of the Emerald Isle. She made Ireland come alive to me—the many, many rocks and the different shades of green. She said the hills reminded her of the West Virginia hills, except they had no trees on them—just brush. The English had cut all the timber long, long ago and shipped it out of Ireland. Curiously enough, Ireland imports most of its potatoes—the country is too rocky to grow them economically.
She was there in June, and it must have been the height of the growing season. She described the many flowers growing beside the hillside roads; one entire hillside was covered with flowering rhododendron and wild roses. (No wonder our ancestors who immigrated from Ireland loved our hills and wild flowers!) She described the Ireland mists as what they call “soft rain” and the coast as wild and beautiful. he saw old castles, and churches, and a college established in 1502. The trip was a delight to her, and it was her “swan song.” It wasn’t long after she returned home that she passed away.
I like to think of her being back in her beloved hills. High on a hillside overlooking the city of Clay, she is home to stay. The spring flowers will bloom above her; the autumn leaves will fall and cover her resting place. She has gone to her long home. I miss her.
I love the March wind—even when it sometimes carries snowflakes and blows fiercely. March, with all her shifting moods, is a prelude to spring and welcome in the hills. March wind, when I was a kid, meant the mud would soon be dried up and we could bring out our carefully hoarded marbles and begin the springtime games. The earliest sign of spring, after the spring peepers began their musical chorus, was the tight circle of little boys ringed around a serious marble game.
We girls played marble too, but far it be from us to join the boys. They would have withdrawn in scorn, and anyway we played “sissy” games like “Four Holes and the Peewee,’ while they played “Keeps.” My brothers were forbidden to play for keeps as it was considered gambling. They always had their pockets full of ill-gotten gains anyway. It has been years since I’ve seen a group of little boys playing marble. I guess it has gone the way of hop-scotch and rolling a hoop.
I am content in my West Virginia home, where the hills are wooded and comforting. Yet, when I hear the nostalgic song of “Danny Boy,” there is an unexplained longing that comes over me to see the land of my ancestors. “Ðanny Boy” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs in the English language. It was written by an Englishman, Fredrick Weatherly, and set to the Irish tune of “Londonderry Air.”
Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling,
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside,
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow.
For I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow;
Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy I love you so.
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
And I am dead, as dead I well may be.
Ye’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me;
And all my grace will warm and sweeter be,
For ye shall bend and tell me that you love me;
And I shall sleep in peace until ye come to me.
And so March marches on, with sunny days and cloudy days; blowy days and snowy days. The last part of a poem that Mom used to say ends with this:
“No matter whatever the weather, just whistle awhile and sing,
The North wind may blow, but you always can know,
That just ‘round the corner is spring!”