Oct. 21, 2011
Tulip Time is an all-American festival thats also all-Dutch. Its an annual celebration in Holland, Michigan. And it shouldnt be missed. But its a spring event, an occasion to rejoice in the blooms of new life.
I never associated tulips with the fall. In front of our house in Maryland today, my wife has placed chrysanthemumsyellow, burgundy, and purples ones. Theyre there along with pumpkins and gourds and harvest-themed garden banners. Its all very nice and welcoming. But theyre not tulips.
So what about tulips in the fall? My own introduction to tulip time in the fall was a bit unusual, Ill admit. In 1980, my new wife pleaded with me to help her plant tulip bulbs. It was October. Sorry, my love, but Im busy this weekend, I told her. Im campaigning for Ronald Reagan. Ill help you plant your tulips in the spring, I promised.
If we dont plant tulip bulbs in the fall, well have nothing in our garden come spring, she protested. It was the first house we had owned as a married couple, so I tried to sympathize with her nesting instinct. But I was heaven-bent on the coming elections.
If we dont get Jimmy Carter out of there, I sternly remonstrated, youll have Soviet tanks in your garden come spring!
I didnt help her at all. Instead, I went doorbelling for Reagan. You really learn about American politics when you go to a third floor walk-up and try to persuade a young mother to listen to you. Ill always remember the wife of a shipyard worker who answered my knock. She had one baby on her hip and another on the floor who seemed to need a change of diapers. All the while, she was stirring soup on the stove.
She said: Youve got just one minute, mister. Okay, I said, Ronald Reagan will get the economy going again. Hell build up our Navy, which will be good for your husbands work; hell make America respected again, and, of course, hell stand up for the right to life. That was enough for her. She said she would vote for Reagan and ask her husband to do so, too. I kept my promise and was out of there in less than one minute.
Politics! Why do I always think of politics? In 1980, my young wife must have been shocked. She had married me between presidential election years. She didnt know that every four years I go more than a little crazy.
Ive always felt a little guilty about not helping my wife with her tulip bulbs that year. But not so guilty that Ive ever helped her since.
Until now. I was cornered this week. We were visiting our daughter and son-in-law. And, of course, we were seeing our two-year old grandson. My wife announced that we would be planting tulip bulbs. Grandson would join us in the back yard. No escape.
She produced for me a tool I had never seen before. Its called a bulb digger. It looks too much like work. I would have the privilege of digging up large clods of earthrich, black soiland my wife and our grandson would put the tulip bulbs in the neat, round holes, covering them with plant food.
We moved quickly throughout the back yard, marking out a large semicircle for planting.
I tried to envision what it would look like with all those tulips coming up next May.
We werent out there that long, but it was long enough for me to get blisters on my hands, so unaccustomed are they to honest work.
Planting and planning. Looking ahead to the future. This is what life is really about. There are surely lessons for young people here. And some older ones, too.
Our grandson was delighted to help in the planting of the tulips. What a blessing it is in this country to have the joy of introducing a little Dutch boy to tulip time. Put the heads up, my wife instructs him. Good counsel. (Im seriously thinking of having her plant me that way, too.)
Theres been so much doom and gloom in the air this year. Terrorism. Double-dip recession talk. Claims of global eco-crises. Mullahs with nukes. It can all get quite dispiriting.
I love the quote from Martin Luther. When asked what he would do if he learned that Jesus was coming back for us tomorrow, the Blessed Doctor said: Id plant a tree.
Or a tulip?