Signs of Spring in a Small Town

Every year, I circle the vernal equinox on our refrigerator calendar so the first day of spring won’t slip by unnoticed. I’m not sure why I depend upon the calendar to announce spring’s arrival, since it has so little bearing on the matter. Spring comes when it’s good and ready; sometimes well before March 21, sometimes well after.

For years, spring in our town was heralded by Leon and Jo Martin, who owned the Dairy Queen. Every year, after their winter sojourn to Florida, they would post the words “Now Hiring” on their sign. I would walk past, see the sign, see Leon and Jo readying for their spring opening, and feel winter’s icy veil lift from around me. It was as accurate an indication of spring as any calendar, and when they died and their children sold the Dairy Queen to an out-of-town outfit who kept it open year-round, it threw off our town’s circadian rhythms something terrible. We’re still not sure when spring begins.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. When the implement store on the west edge of town, where Johnston’s IGA used to be, stops selling snow plows and starts selling lawn mowers, that’s a pretty good sign winter’s grip has loosened. If they should drop the ball, Frank Gladden is sure to stand at our Quaker meeting and announce that volunteers are needed for our spring fish fry. Frank’s announcement is as reliable as any clock, and invariably tinged with worry and regret that this might be the last year of the fish fry if volunteers aren’t forthcoming.
“We’re not getting any younger,” he announces to the congregation. Frank is 80 years old, but he’s been saying that since 1961, so we Quakers aren’t alarmed. The Fairfield Friends Fish Fry is as constant as sunrise. If Jesus were to return on the clouds the day before the fish fry, the men would soldier on, undeterred.

When the implement store on the west edge of town stops selling snow plows and starts selling lawn mowers, that’s a pretty good sign winter’s grip has loosened.

But let us suppose both the implement store and Frank Gladden neglect their duties and we are cast adrift, oblivious to spring’s arrival. We would then have to look and see whether Bill Eddy, our town’s plumber, was wearing a coat. When the first leaf withers and falls to the ground in autumn, Bill pulls on his tan Carhartt coat and doesn’t remove it until spring. I’ve known Bill since we were in first grade together, so am well-acquainted with his habits. He wears the coat inside and outside, and if he takes a week off in February to take his wife on a cruise, you can bet he’ll still be wearing his coat while floating around the Caribbean. No matter where he is, his internal thermostat is set for Indiana.

There are other signs of spring if one is watchful. The deer lighten in color, the dog sheds, the buds swell, the snow melts on the south hillside, and the bloodroot in our woodlot pushes out its petals. The calf appears, tethered to its mother by bonds of hunger. The farmer casts the manure upon the field, thoughtfully provided by the aforementioned calf and mother. Who needs a calendar when a calf is nearby?

Nothing seems impossible in spring — a cure for cancer, wisdom in Washington, weight loss. Anything can happen, and often does. I proposed to my wife a dozen times in the winter and was denied each time, so I waited until spring and popped the question a 13th time, an unlucky number, but even superstition takes a backseat to the glories of spring, and she consented. Engaged one spring, married the next. Between that and the Dairy Queen, what more could one want?

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and the author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.

This article appears in the March/April 2018 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.