In one of his short stories, “A Jonquil for Mary Penn,” Wendell Berry paints a word picture of a teenaged wife and her husband, a year older than she, working to survive on a rented farm on Cotman Ridge, in Kentucky, near the fictional town of Goforth. Living in poverty, in a tiny, drafty farmhouse, lacking the conveniences of electricity and plumbing, Mary finds herself with a fever - many years before COVID. Elton is at a neighbor’s plowing. Spring is near. The time is early March, but the weather is still very wintry. She goes back to bed just to get warm.
When she awakes the second time, there’s a fire in the stove and a pot of hot tea brewing. Elton, realizing she was sick when he left, stopped by a neighbor’s and asked Josie Tom to check on Mary. Josie Tom has rekindled the fire, cleaned house, and sits humming a hymn and embroidering a jonquil on a piece of cloth.
May I suggest Wendell Berry for some interesting reading material? And start with some of his short stories.
Yesterday, as I parked my old truck in back of our house, I noticed a patch of daffodils - or jonquils - under a box elder tree in our backyard. They were the first blooming plants of the year on our property. I picked seven of them and took them to Sammie.
As I handed her the yellow flowers, I thought of Berry’s story of kindness and caring for those we love. We talked about those important themes and how the jonquil for Mary Penn was needle point, not an actual flower. We also discussed the difference in a jonquil and a daffodil. According to Google, the names are used interchangeably. Then, considering the early signs of spring, we almost became giddy as our thoughts turned to the hope for a different kind of year than last year. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies.”
Soon the forsythia bushes that surround our house will pop with bright yellow blossoms. Crocuses, violets, tulips, irises, and day lilies will bloom in our yard or elsewhere throughout our neighborhood. They will be joined by hyacinth, pansies, and creeping phlox to sing of the hope that springtime promises.
Words from the old song, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” played in my mind: “...strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow...” and I smiled with anticipation for the celebration of Easter. Christ’s resurrection brings the greatest hope of all. The bursting forth of flowers and buds reminds us of God’s faithfulness. The seasons, especially the hope of spring, announce His promises and assurance of His presence. But Jesus’s victory over death...there is no comparison!
We all know that, in this part of the world, it could still snow on March 20 - the first day of spring this year. Some of us even recall snow on Easter Sunday. This year, Easter falls on April 4. I remember an April 1 when more than a foot of snow fell here in the mountains.
And sickness will always be with us. We will always have flu and probably some form of COVID. But in Christ there is always hope for tomorrow. I am so thankful for Him and for the flowers of springtime that remind us of new life, resurrection, and the promise for a future with our risen Lord.
“The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come...” - Song of Solomon 2:12
Steve Playl, a retired pastor, chaplain, columnist, and college instructor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org