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By Michele Herman | First the ants came marching one by one, translucent brown in a shaft of morning sun as they lugged our crumbs across the living-room floorboards to their hidden pantry. Outside, skinny green stalks poked up from earth that looked about as fertile as matzo. Then my eyelids turned a pale maroon and felt as if someone had lifted them and sprinkled itching powder inside.
Yes, spring has come to the Village one baby step at a time, and we have finally landed safely in May. Not that I am maligning April, the month when I count the blessings of three of my favorite religions, forever intertwined in my mind: spring, motherhood and Judaism. My children, like me, were born in April, which is why my husband agrees that it’s the cruelest month, requiring a running start in March (his birthday and then our wedding anniversary). It is a month dyed lemon yellow and scented with my favorite perfumes: daffodils, chicken soup and sponge cake.
Soon after the skinny leaves of the crocuses and the daffodils, the floppy leaves of the tulips emerged, with a bit of red at the tip as if all that poking through hard ground had drawn blood. But then April, always a tease, stopped in her tracks. The leaves plotzed against the wind and the cold and the rain, and everyone I talked to agreed: We would never see a flower again.
My husband the empiricist insisted that this was just collective annual amnesia and that this winter was no longer or harsher than usual. But my senses told a different story. The days may have been getting longer, but I didn’t seem to have enough sweaters to see me through a week.
Then one day the brown ground was dotted with the purple, white and orange palette of crocuses. Every other available patch of earth was profligate with daffodils. Outside our apartment, a pair of mourning doves began stopping by daily, and a yenta of a mockingbird took over wake-up duties from the disorganized sparrows. Two heretofore nondescript young trees produced loose, white flowers-in-training that waved in the wind like handkerchiefs, seeming unsure which side was right side out; the grande dame magnolias over at Jefferson Market could have shown them how it’s done.
Passover arrived the same time as the tulips; what better time to give thanks we are not enslaved in the Sinai or Negev? At the Brooklyn cousins’ Seder the Maxwell House hagaddahs finally fell apart and were replaced with new ones downloaded from the Web. These were from the Society for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County, which happens to be my home county: I sang out doubly loud on “Let my people go.”
Even two-thirds of the way into the month, April continued playing games. One day I was covering my arms in quilted down, and the very next they needed nothing more than SPF 30. The dog went straight from his jaunty plaid winter coat to a panting tongue, which poked out from his earth-toned fur like another pink blossom.
One morning I was early for an appointment and sat in Abingdon Square to admire the tulips. Can there be a more beautiful sight, I asked myself, than these yellow, orange and red tulips bordered by their perfect complement, grape hyacinth? No, I decided, breathing in their sweet fragrance: This is peak. But then I happened to glance up and realized I was completely surrounded by clusters of Japanese maple stars backlit by the sun, as red as red could get against the blue sky. I’m not one to confuse the literal with the figurative, but I was dazzled. In the park a tiger cat appeared from nowhere and just as quickly dove into the tulips and disappeared, as if it couldn’t get enough color either. Deborah the Parks Department worker was running the leaf blower; it was the week when the glorious pear trees released their small round petals, as if God had emptied His hole puncher. A hipster dad with an enormous double stroller pulled out an April infant, fists still balled and roaming around its head like unmanned satellites.
April did her job. Spring, the season of low Con Ed bills and light jackets, was here in earnest. The taxes came due; the corduroys finally went to the bottom of the drawer; we ate unleavened bread, and prayed for freedom for all the peoples of the Middle East. The lavender flowers are next on the schedule, and I will make excuses to sniff the lilac on the river and walk down West 13th Street to admire the wisteria that drips so romantically down its tenement facade. Soon, when the humidity of a New York summer has settled in for the duration, the irises will bring up the rear of the bulb brigade with their leaves ironed so flat you would never guess at the outrageous curves biding their time inside.
This April was extra cruel, the first in 19 years we didn’t get to celebrate our first son’s birthday with him, because he’s in college in Chicago. On Easter we didn’t dye eggs and hide them (ecumenically) in Hudson River Park as usual, because the teenager still in residence has put away childish things.
And we have spent a year now without St. Vincent’s Hospital, which twice sent me home in April with a baby boy in my lap. We rode in a taxi through a fairyland of flowering pear trees that had blossomed in my absence, and I cried at the freedom and beauty of the world I was delivering them into.