The Gift of Dandelions
By Gloria Gaither
Dandelions dotted my childhood. When the long Michigan winter began to admit defeat, there were dandelions, spreading their leaves like fingers, flat and broad, across the greening grass with their tiny fists of buds in the middle. Their first spring appearance was signal for my mother to grab a plastic bucket and a long-bladed kitchen knife and head for the yard and meadow to harvest those tender plants and buds for our first batch of dandelion greens.
I went along beside her to take the piles of uprooted plants and put them in her bucket. When it was full and pressed down, we went to the kitchen to trim away any extra root or yellowed leaves, then plunge the greens into a sink full of cold water and vigorously swish away any soil and sand. The greens then went to a drainer while mother filled the sink one more time and added a generous handful of salt to dislodge from the leaves any snails or insects that have survived the first wash.
While the greens drained from the final bath, mother fried a pound of bacon until it was crispy, draining it, too, on some paper towel to cool. Next, she poured most of the bacon grease into a coffee can, then began wilting the greens, one skillet full at a time, until all the greens were wilted. Meanwhile, she mixed in a small bowl, apple cider vinegar, a bit of sugar, and a few dashes of salt to pour over the greens, then kept them warm on the stove until she was ready to serve this delicacy; she put them in her prettiest bowl and crumbled the crisp bacon on top. There was not another treat like this—the first taste of spring!
As the season progressed, the yard was punctuated with the bright yellow blossoms of dandelions. I couldn’t resist picking handfuls of them to present to mother as a bouquet. She always made over them like they were a prize from the most fashionable florist and put them in her prettiest bud vases to display the kitchen window.
Later in the summer, when our family went walking in the field or the woods behind my grandparent’s farmhouse, we would pick the tall dandelions, blow the feathery seed tops to the wind, then sit down in the tall grass and make necklaces, belts, or crowns out of the long stems. I learned to thread the small end of the stem into the tube of the big end, then link in the next circle until the chain was long enough to go around our waists or our heads.
When our own children came along, I passed these joyful rituals along to them, then delighted later to celebrate dandelions with their children.
To this day my eyes dance when I see the first dandelion in the spring, and suspect that these underestimated flowers are why yellow has remained to this day my favorite color. And for me, enjoying dandelions is a great metaphor for celebrating the common things, making do with what we have, and paying attention to the glory of every season of the year—and of life.
And maybe soon we could just invite some friends over for a dinner of pulled pork and dandelion greens!