Spring's inexplicable yen leads to dazes and street market

This opinion column appears in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal March 28, 2009. Give your opinion below.

My friend Luke is busy treating his outhouse for termites. It wouldn’t do to have a termite-weakened seat in an outhouse.

Actually, it’s a decorative privy Luke built for his wife long ago, used as a conversation piece and potting shed. The gray wood is festooned with colorful watering cans. The outhouse has decorated three different yards for the Halls, and it wouldn’t do to lose it.

That’s the kind of energy and focus some of the more conscientious among us have in the spring, what I like to call a window-washing/rug-beating/behind-the-refrigerator painting/outhouse-spraying zeal. Now that’s the admirable kind of spring fever.

It can go the other way, this fever phenomenon. Some humans – and I walk among them – can’t concentrate on anything, much less constructive chores. We, instead, wile away sunlit hours, walking aimlessly around the yard holding a half-empty can of lilac-colored spray paint, intending to freshen up something, anything, but forgetting our mission at the first sign of a crocus or a hydrangea bud.

Another fellow I know well cranks up his convertible car – a car designed for youth – and drives around for miles with his hair blowing forward.

These days I dress in three layers, the same way my yellow dog Mabel grows blond hair. You can’t tell in March when you might need to blow a coat, shed a jacket, roll up your shirtsleeves.

Tree buds are daring me to blink and miss their annual unfurling. The early mornings are still cold, yet it is a different kind of cold from bitter winter cold; it is a cold full of loving promise.

If I sit down to write, the balloon above my head stays empty. And I have this inexplicable yen to be around other people.

So today I’m at the Crump, Tenn., flea market, as close a thing to a European street market as can be found in our primitive area. I don’t need a single thing you can purchase here except home-grown tomatoes. And it’s far too early to buy good tomatoes. I should be at home preparing my own tomato bed, but instead I’m here, perusing the goods, watching people, wandering in a semi-daze through the labyrinth of vendors.

This is a spring show same as daffodils or azaleas, this shantytown of semi-permanent booths, quaint stalls and trailer-bed yard sales. Cheerful individuals roll out their goods in defiance of the sorry economy. Here you can buy a Dominique hen (Editor’s note: Frequently referred to as the “Dominecker”), a baby goat with long velvet ears, a dog collar, Easter biddies, a Nixon campaign button, a Larry Brown novel, a miniature horse, a puzzle missing three pieces or a tiny pig made entirely out of seashells. The latter is from the Seashell Lady, whose menagerie includes an armadillo. Where else could you find one of those?

Merchants fill the Tennessee woods like May apples, popping up from beneath blue tarps full grown with their collections of rusted automobile tags and white diabetic socks and incense lamps. You can eat lunch, talk to a man about a mule or hear a woman’s theory on what a bluebird looks for in a home.

Customers often arrive with their dogs – a Great Dane puppy dances on its leash, a rat terrier rolls along in a baby buggy. What’s the point of a springtime outing if your pet can’t participate?

The Tennessee River bottom is the color of Granny Smith apples, with red buds piercing the green. Already I have lost two layers of clothing, spent $10 on meaningless items I do not need and lovingly stroked a baby goat that surely has habits I would grow to deplore.

It may be time to go home and nap.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.


Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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