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Waylaid by Violets

WE were going out back to dig up some dandelions for a supper salad, Victor and I, when we were waylaid by violets. Caring for this four-year-old one afternoon a month was an installment on a Christmas pledge I'd given to his mother - but the truth was, I wound up with the present.

As we looked down the bank we saw that the yard was suddenly full of violets after last night's rain - large purple and gray-white specimens with lavender hairstreaks standing tall.

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No matter how the vegetable garden annually expanded, those violets continued to triumph. They leaped over ditches, sneaked through raspberry tangles and forsythia jungles, and relaxed under bordering pine trees. They were absolutely all over the place.

I gasped with pleasure, clutching my small guest's hand, the old urge of childhood bursting through. Chores were put on the back burner. ``Let's pick violets instead, Victor. I'll show you how.''

(You run your thumb and two first fingers down the juicy stem as far as they'll go before touching ground. Then you nip it off close and neat.) ``If you break a few short stems,'' I philosophized, popping one purple head in my mouth, ``it's OK to eat them.'' He was impressed, though somewhat dubious about following my lead.

``Loaded with vitamins,'' I explained. ``And there's even more in the green leaves. Good for you.'' (That recommendation got me exactly nowhere, a tack I was quick to recognize.)

At his sensitive age I suppose I'd have been shocked to see a flower so ravished. It did seem to border on the cannibalistic, I might have thought. Maybe Victor was coming to the same conclusion.

``I picked a leaf,'' he said tentatively. ``Is that OK?''

``No problem. Leaves make the flowers stand out. Just be sure you get long stems. Green leaves work in with purple violets just fine.''

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We were down on our knees amid thousands of deliciously perfumed flowers. My clump grew in relative roundness, but his stack was skimpy and (his word for it) scruggy. His inexperienced hands couldn't control many. Their perky heads listed sidewise, short stems sifting out. ``Too many scruggies,'' he apologized.

``Let me take your bouquet,'' I offered. ``You can start a new one. Later we'll put them all together properly.''

He was relieved to be free to begin again. The serrated grapefruit knife with which I'd intended to dig dandelions lay on the ground beside the plastic bag. ``What's this for?'' he asked. ``Why's it bended?''

``It's curved to circle around the rim of the grapefruit,'' I said, curving to demonstrate.

He caught on. ``So why couldn't we dig some vi'lets out with it?'' The business of picking them one by one could be tedious, he implied.

I started to deny him, then reconsidered. ``Well, why not? The more you pick the more they multiply. If we scoop out a few plants, roots and all, we can put them in a dish and have them actually growing indoors.''

He was pleased. ``For Mama.''

``Right. And when they get leggy and go by, all she'll have to do is put them into a shade place in your backyard. Then you'll have all the violets you ever want.'' (That was the way our area had become lavender-blue. A woods' clump, a swamp clump, a patch from our first homesite. Now, a sea of violets, a rain of violets every time it April-showered.)

I began to sing: ``It isn't raining rain at all, it's raining vi-o-lets.''

Victor did not appreciate my singing. ``It rains rain. Wet rain. That's a silly song.''

``Have no regrets....'' I ignored his carping. ``It isn't raining rain, you know, it's raining vi-o-lets.''

``How about this?'' he challenged, shutting me off. ``Is it scruggy?''

``No. It's a bud. That's the best kind. Buds are promises. They open later. Last longer. You're a bud, too.''

Sitting there in his red and blue jacket among the violets Victor looked more like a grinning Puck, assessing humanity with tolerance. Which he did, raining violets into my lap.

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