In the 64 years my mother and I shared an earthly presence, I became accustomed to her personal style of oral communication, filled as it was with a unique turn-of-phrase here, a well-worn idiom there. Paired with my strong, silent father – who could himself turn loquacious when we least expected it – Mother accomplished an entire range of parental duties by means of her voice. She regularly talked us into submission, peppering her lengthy disciplinary lectures with “and another thing.” She soothed us and educated us and encouraged us with adages including “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
But with the end of April upon us, I am thinking about Mother’s particular descriptions of the seasons. She covered summer and fall with one stanza by Helen Hunt Jackson: O suns and skies and clouds of June/And flowers of June together/Ye cannot rival for one hour/October’s bright blue weather. I loved listening to her recite those poetic lines, watching the distant look in her eyes as if she were somehow transported. And for each of my own Octobers I have been similarly transported by that bright blue sky overhead.
Short but not particularly sweet was her assessment of winter: Bah humbug! She delivered the expression just as disdainfully as Scrooge ever managed. Oh, she could hang on through the annual Yuletide festivities, even accepting the occasional white Christmas. But she expected spring to arrive the very next day, which happened to be her birthday. For years, the flower shop here in Urbana had to put up with my out-of-season orders for spring bouquets when the poinsettias were still in robust bloom.
It was that interminable stretch from January to the lion/lamb situation in March that Mother simply could not abide, that could hinder a sustained positive outlook. It was every year a red-letter day when she could exclaim her spring-related proverb, April showers bring May flowers. Of course, I had to sneak a peek into Google for the original wording by Thomas Tusser, 16th century British poet: Sweet April showers do spring May Flowers. Mother would have wholeheartedly celebrated either rendition, if it meant opening doors and windows and hanging sheets outside on the clothesline to dry!
I do, however, consider the five words of Mother’s spring adage, which has undoubtedly appeared in the pages of many an almanac – Poor Richard’s and otherwise – a bit prosaic for the kaleidoscopic fest promised. Spring presents an overlapping flurry of pastels and brights pushing themselves out of the ground and into existence, popping off the ends of stems and branches, carpeting great swaths of lawn and pasture surfaces. Daffodils and crocuses, sweet Williams and spring beauties, forsythia and lilacs courageously replace any residual snow and slush, proudly cooperating with falling raindrops that allow the long-anticipated arrival of such blooms and blossoms.
But Mother had a second means of describing the newest season of the year, an entire tune at her disposal. Beyond the poem extolling October’s bright blue skies and the abrupt humbug complaint, showers in April and flowers in May have long been the subject of a song! She sang it often enough for me to pretty much know it by heart – and in the later years of my teaching career I treated – or tortured – classrooms full of students with my own annual performance of the onetime popular melody.
Seduced by the open-door weather of the weekend just past – following the two inches of snow that settled heavily on the boughs of my cedar tree earlier in the week – I decided to inform myself about Mother’s song of spring.
“April Showers” was written in 1921, two years before she was born, with music by Louis Silvers and lyrics by B.G. De Sylva. I so love songs from that grand era in which composers chose thoughtful, meaningful words to accompany their music, in the style of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. In fact, there is an introductory verse I never knew existed, one that Mother never sang: Life is not a highway strewn with flowers/Still it holds a goodly share of bliss/When the sun gives way to April showers/Here is the point you should never miss.
It was Al Jolson who popularized the song on Broadway and via recordings; it became a standard for this famous entertainer of the 1920s. But lots of other singers also performed “April Showers,” including Carol Burnett, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Eddie Fisher, Frank Sinatra – and Bugs Bunny!
To emphasize the influence Mother had on us – and/or to illustrate just how wacky my family really is – my Tennessee sister called a few minutes ago to serenade me with the song of the month! Absent a live performance from me, I hope you will listen to Al Jolson’s version on YouTube, where there is also a lovely version by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
And now to celebrate my mom as well as the probable return of spring: Though April showers may come your way/They bring the flowers that bloom in May/So if it’s raining have no regrets/Because it isn’t raining rain you know, it’s raining violets/And where you see clouds upon the hills/You soon will see crowds of daffodils/So keep on looking for a bluebird and list’ning for his song/Whenever April showers come along.
Happy April! Happy May! Happy spring!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.