When Spring arrives – finally – I mark the event by collecting and cataloging a random assortment of my own personal harbingers. I scour the parks for crocus and daffodils, I take my coats to the cleaners and venture out wearing a sweater or a fleece, I listen for birds to wake me up in the morning, and I look for wild chives. For me, it’s the wild chives that spell Spring.
I grew up in a lovely little town in the Midwest. When I was in the eighth grade, my family built a very nice house in a new sub-division called Seven Pines because the street that lined the open space that was about to be filled with homes had seven tall pine trees. The field had been farmed during WWII. They grew onions there that would have been shipped overseas to help feed the American troops. This was before my time and to me, this area was just the vacant field at the end of the street where our first house stood.
I remember my mother talking with the designers about widening a doorway or the height of the counters. She loved really vibrant colors and the house would be painted gold, rose pink, lavender, celery, mint, and yellow. After we had moved into the house, my dad planted chives. They grew right out the back door, next to the stoop and even though he always had a full garden with beautiful tomatoes, the chives grew all alone, close to the house.
On Saturday mornings in the spring, my dad would take my mother’s kitchen shears out back and snip off the chives into long strands, releasing the onion scent into the kitchen. He chopped the chives into tiny bits and beat them into eggs, scrambling them together in the pan. In these few instances my mother relinquished her regular role as breakfast chef to my dad and he would set aside his regular fried eggs and bacon for this masterful concoction of scrambled eggs and chives.
I know now why he planted them there. Chives masquerade as grass, so if you plant them anywhere else, once grass has been mown, the chives will disappear and become barely distinguishable from the rest of the lawn. That’s why I think of them in the Spring – it’s because nobody has had the chance to mow the grass yet. It’s barely warm enough for sweaters and the last thing you think about is mowing the grass so the chives grow tall and fragrant and to enjoy the wonderful scent, you just snap off a blade to release the fresh onion fragrance.
My mother had her own plants growing just out the back door – Lily of the Valley – growing right next to the chives. Tiny white bells on Crayola green stalks, sending out their own wonderful scent every Spring and my mother would collect a small handful of them and put them in a colorful glass vase. Lily of the Valley is not a common scent to me now, but when I was growing up, I could catch that scent every time I went outdoors. The chives were not really fragrant unless I picked them, but the lilies released their scent unaided.
It strikes me now how these plants characterized my parents and it’s probably why I find myself looking for them now that it’s getting warmer out. My dad is practical, a builder, the guy you’d want to call if anything went wrong because he would know how to fix things, what to do next. And my mother was always more of an indoors girl who loved books and music. They were the perfect balance of indoors and outdoors, practice and theory, the world around us and the eternal. And now, it’s the smell of chives growing in parks and fields in New York City that reminds me of home, breakfast, and spring.
All photos by me!