A few pieces at a time, I am endeavoring to transfer the one brushpile (a leftover from the Ice-pocalypse) that is still in the backyard to one of the two brushpiles piled by the road in front of the drainage ditch, where at some point in the future I assume the city will make it disappear.
Where it will go, I cannot say. Maybe the city will wish it away into a field somewhere, like that deranged little Opie-esque child/god in the Twilight Zone.
This morning, I was wrestling my daily quota of ten limbs out of the pile and by my feet I noticed a little spongy thing. It was a morel mushroom.
It seems a little early for those, I thought. Don't they come up a little closer to May? But then I realized I was thinking of my childhood.
You see, there is history between us, these little mushrooms and me.
I spent my childhood in Illinois. It's further north, so spring, and hence mushrooms, come later.
We had about an acre of land. It was bordered on one side by the woods and on the back by a neighborhood baseball field.
At the border of the ballfield and the woods, and fifty feet on each side, was prime morel-growing real estate. Late April or early May, somebody would notice one growing somewhere, and my parents and I would gather up some paper grocery bags (this was pre-plastic-grocery bags, but oddly not pre-plastic-garbage bags) and go on a mushroom hunt.
That night, my mom would fry them and it would be enough to feed a family of six, plus whatever hangers-on always seemed to be hanging around the house.
Fast-forward several years and 400 miles south, and I'm in 8th or 9th grade science class under Mr. Prewett. We are discussing the different kingdoms of living things. We get to the fungi.
"Fungi, of course, includes mushrooms. Hase anyone here gone picking mushrooms?" he asked the class.
I raised my hand. Nobody else did.
I lowered my hand, hoping nobody had seen it.
It was embarassing because A. since I was the only one, it set me apart from everyone else and the last thing an 8th or 9th grader wants is to stick out like a sore thumb. The important thing is to fit in by conforming to what everyone else does. And B. I thought it marked me as poor. What, can't you afford to BUY mushrooms, Poory McPoorpoor?
Looking back, we weren't any poorer than most of the people in my school. In fact, we were LESS poor than quite a few. My dad had a Caterpillar retirement check coming in every month.
But we LIVED poor. I used to think my parents spent it all on coffee and cigarettes. But back then, those luxuries were still cheap, so I don't know WHERE all the money went, or why we never had anything to show for it. Maybe it was the livestock. What's the joke -- How does a farmer end up with a small fortune? Start with a large fortune.
But I digress.
My raising, and sheepish lowering, of my hand had not gone unnoticed by Mr. Prewett.
And he couldn't just let it go, oh no.
He launched into a lecture directed specifically at me, in front of the whole class, about how I shouldn't be embarassed about picking mushrooms just because nobody else, certainly no civilized person, does it and how I shouldn't just follow the crowd. This lasted for several minutes.
It was even more embarassing than the thought of everyone thinking I was poor.
That night (too late to be of any help whatsoever) I realized that what I SHOULD have done is told him I misunderstood the question, that I had thought he meant getting mushrooms at the STORE. A lie, yes. But a lie I could bluff my way through and muddy the waters with, enough to run out the clock on the classtime.
That was . . . gawd it must be pushing 25 years ago. And that's the first thing I thought of when I saw the little morel on the ground.
At first, the unpleasant memory was almost enough to make me ignore the mushroom.
But then something clicked in my head -- Hey, that's something I can eat that the government doesn't get a cut of! I don't have to pay an indulgence to Uncle
My first scan of the backyard yielded five of them. Two subsequent scans yielded one each.
They were delicious.
4/2/09 UPDATE: Got five more today. Gonna eat 'em.