Willoughby: A young boy’s Mother’s Day challenge | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: A young boy’s Mother’s Day challenge

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies

Early spring wildflowers at the mercy of a return to winter. Photo by Willoughby/Courtesy photo

My sister was four years older so she dictated, and I mean that literally, many of my activities. That included preparing for Mother’s Day, except for my own attempt at personal gratitude.

In grade school our teachers used the occasion for art projects, Crayola drawings and colorful construction paper cutouts with some original phrases. I couldn’t color between the lines if my life depended on it. I couldn’t operate scissors. I got more glue on me than on a project. My most creative phrase started with ‘roses are red and violets are blue’, but I misspelled the words and couldn’t make the words fit on the paper.

Most of what I took home was squished into my pockets, anything larger than a pocket was usually wet, torn or crumpled by the time it made it home. My sister, a perfectionist who never misspelled a world in her whole life, made it clear that what I labored over for at least three minutes in school didn’t pass her Mother’s Day appropriateness test.

Cooking for Mom on her day, a classic tradition, didn’t require preparation since our kitchen was always stocked, at least for what I wanted. My sister would take over and I, at least from her vantage, was just in the way.

After a few discouraging years of that one year I decided, the day before Mother’s Day, to do something different. I was old enough to recognize that flowers for moms was the order of the day. I had no money to buy them and I’m not sure that even if I did I would have figured out where to buy them, there were not many options in 1950s Aspen.

I decided I would just pick some and bring them home. I had learned an important lesson on another occasion when I thought it would be a good idea to bring flowers home for my mother. It may have even been that same year. As you are no doubt aware, the first colorful blossoms in the spring are dandelions. In Aspen at that time they were everywhere, along the sides of the unpaved streets with no concrete sidewalks and even growing out of the cracks in the few concrete sidewalks I walked on to school on each day.

I grabbed a few close to home and prepared for my mother’s excitement when I handed them to her. I wasn’t home more than a few seconds before my sister was screaming. She was highly allergic to dandelions, she would start sneezing just looking at them from the distance. Dandelion season was the lowest point of the year for her. I also got a horticultural lecture about dandelions not being flowers, something that made no sense to me since I thought that first burst or spring color was fabulous.

Since I was able to wonder the town on my own at an early age I had explored many areas and one of my favorites was the area around Glory Hole Park and Ute Cemetery. At that time it was not a park, just a deep hole where people illegally dumped their garbage. There was no Aspen Alps then, there was just acres of Durant mine dumps. But I did know that that area was usually one of the first places in town for wildflowers to bloom, especially my second favorite after dandelions, buttercups.

It may be hard for locals now to realize that before climate change you could not count on wildflowers in town on Mother’s Day and it was almost as likely that it might snow on that day. I was in luck, and I picked bunches.

I took them home and hid them in my bedroom. I pulled them out just before dinner and delivered them, or what was left of them. Little did I know that unlike dandelions they would shrivel up.

May all mothers this May enjoy unpicked wildflowers on Mother’s Day.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

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