Spring blossoms all around, circling and curing the brief bout with March Madness we experienced this year in the realm of Hoosier hysteria. On Good Friday, the time according to pagan tradition to plant potatoes, IU got clobbered on the basketball court by North Carolina, a game too late for farmers like me, starting at 10 pm eastern time, though the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame won another miracle comeback earlier that night. I wonder if the Pope was watching. Cardinals and mockingbirds dominate our sunrise symphonies now that the warmth has returned, enough to cheer up anyone--even a grumpy old farmer who studied German philosophy in college. The dawn hours beckon, and I have temporarily abandoned the minstrel lifestyle, the banjo and late night strumming. Now it's black tea at dawn.
Baby chicks peep from the back bedroom that doubles as a nursery for germinating vegetables and flowers. There's a pine bunk bed that my dad and I built for my younger brother and me back in 1981, which turned out perfect for shelving layers of flats. Originally I used that room for propagating seedless watermelons which are finicky and demand a soilless vermiculite medium, an environment high in constant humidity and a steady 90 degrees F. This season we are branching into new territory, attempting to start about 10 different varieties of flowers to sell at our roadside stand.
Most of the flowers we are hoping will fill out six packs for Mothers' Day I'd never heard of before this spring and still can't pronounce, like Ageratum, Bacopa, Calibrachoa, Osteospernum, Portulaca, and Rudbeckia. Magically most of these strange breeds emerged, even the tiny petunias that were so microscopic I had to peer closely every morning for a week, skeptically, until the seedlings finally waved at me like thousands of tiny fans at a miniature political rally. I imagined I was Bernie Sanders, promising these tiny petunias that they'd be well cared for and educated up through college, where they'd learn valuable skills on the government's dime and go on to promising careers in a sustainable, growing economy with free health care. As I toted the stacks of flats past the garden, out to the distant greenhouse, I changed my mind and became Donald Trump. "You're all gonna be sold and exploited like meaningless six packs of superfluous decorations, and I get all the cash! HA!"
Never would I have ventured into a market I consider somewhat frivolous, in these dire economic times, but the largest retailer of greenhouse flowers in our valley, my former employers – Grizzly and Bambi – went bankrupt last fall. Five years ago my son and I ended up working mostly with flower starts, hanging baskets and all that business in their numerous greenhouses as record rainfall prevented them from planting watermelons. In lieu of music, Bambi chose to play inspirational tapes by the positive-thinking guru, Zig Ziglar. Like Zig, Bambi considered most secular music to be evil.
"Not even Bill Monroe?" my son, then 14, asked one rainy April afternoon as we snipped petunia vines from around the rims of pots. "We got a cassette in the truck."
"Are his songs positive?"
"Yeah! He's the king of bluegrass, out of Bean Blossom Indiana!"
"No sad stuff?"
"Well there's some songs about lost love."
"I don't know," said Bambi, shaking her head. "I don't like the sound of that."
Not only did we listen to Zig Ziglar's words of encouragement, his anti-alcohol, anti-drug, anti-music, pro-corporate sales lectures, but we heard the same goddam tape front and back like six times per day. I couldn't trust my own thoughts anymore.
"How's it goin, Spec?" asked Bambi, flirting with the awkward vulgarity of the ruling class, also of a tormented Jehovah's Witness born and raised who hooked up with her current husband as a freshman in high school. I'd never been so repulsed by another person's advances. She pimped my son and me as well as several buff, younger Mexican dudes in tank tops and cut-off T-shirts carrying hanging baskets for the droves of women who forced their husbands to drive out to the country and fork over $100 on flowers especially on Mother's Day. "You look frustrated."
Frustrated didn't quite describe my condition that morning after not getting laid for four months since leaving Mendo and being somewhat sexually harassed by an unattractive employeress, also too much coffee and possible alcoholic shakes as I clutched the six inch round pot with my left hand quivering, my right fingers attempting to manipulate the scissors, snipping off the tiny, crawling vines.
"What's the matter, Spec?"
"You don't look happy."
"I'm a positive PECKERHEAD PRUNING PINK PETUNIAS!"
If Grizzly and Bambi had stuck with the farm market and their admittedly awesome greenhouses, rather than following Zig Ziglar's advice and going for the gold, attempting to supply millions of dollars worth of watermelons and other produce for Wal-Mart, they'd probably still be in business, thriving. But they're done. Five years ago my son and I, as well as the most dashing of the Mexican dudes, must have toted 25 grand worth of hanging baskets and various other arrangements to the trunks of cars for ladies on that Mother's Day, alone. They had a thriving business going on, and are leaving a gaping hole in the local economy.
So we're hoping to sell 6-packs of flowers this spring. So far they are barely emerging, maybe ready to be separated out soon into the flats. The only music these fledgling sprouts have been exposed to has come thanks to the mockingbirds, cardinals, and other wild troubadours.