When I was growing up in Lakewood, NY, an annual rite of spring for the neighborhood kids was picking dandelions and bringing them to the Dandelion Lady. In return, she rewarded us with a thick peppermint candy – one for each batch of dandelions.
A combination of my boredom and my sweet tooth drove me to tug and pull at those unfortunate plants in backyards and front yards up and down my street.
As I yielded bunches of dandelions, my hands would stain and stink from weed pulling.
The Dandelion Lady lived in a duplex on the next street over. A back-alley entrance led to her second-floor dwelling.
With my arms overflowing with dandelions, I relied on my feet to Braille each step as I scaled the steep dark stairs. A sense of mystery and magic accompanied my climb up the musty passageway to the tall heavy-handled door at the top.
I patiently knocked. Nothing. I knocked again, a little harder. Still nothing. Not brave enough to try a third time, I started back down the stairs, my dandelions growing limp and my hopes dashed.
Then, when I heard some wrestling with the doorknob, the turning of locks and a slow creak of door hinges, I turned around. As the door inched open, a narrow beam of light emptied into the dark hallway, framing the frail old woman.
There were no sounds of life in the background of her place. No one inside hollering, "Who is it?" No one cursing and yelling, "Get the hell out of here."
There was no aroma of food cooking, either. No bacon frying. No coffee brewing. No stew simmering.
And as far as I remember, The Dandelion Lady and I never had a formal introduction. Over the years, word spread about her, causing a mutual understanding of the purpose of my visit and her rather generic salutation.
"Hello, there," her fragile voice strained to greet me. After that, there was no need for more words.
The Dandelion Lady reached toward me to take my harvest. Slowly and carefully, so as not to spill the entire batch, I relinquished it to her. And as promised, she produced a thick gritty pink peppermint candy that would rest in my jaw and slowly melt away the afternoon's lull.
In those days, it was my insatiable desire for candy that mattered most.
Although today, as dandelions bloom abundantly, I wonder about The Dandelion Lady. What was her real name? Where was her family? What was she doing with those dandelions? Was she making dandelion wine or was she mitigating her loneliness?
A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
� 2007 Paula Damon