I can’t believe how quickly and smoothly planting season went this spring. Our only concern has been the temperatures. Freezing temps at night and highs only in the 40s doesn’t make for a warm seed bed, but the calendar says May and we needed to get rolling. Despite the cool conditions, Mark took to the fields. By the end of the week, all the corn and soybean seeds were in the ground ready to start growing. Now if it will just rain.    
    While rains have watered many parts of the state this month, our sandy ground in central Minnesota is parched. We have yet to receive more than a half inch of rain in May. This is great for planting the low spots in the fields but not for germination. This may be our second spring of having to water in May just to germinate the seed and jump start the hayfields. Irrigation pipes are already connected and ready to deliver water to the pivot points to start watering the fields. We’re waiting to flip the switch though. Forecasters are predicting a change in the weather pattern by the end of the week. Southerly winds are expected to bring moisture up from the Gulf Coast. I hope it has enough steam to reach us. We will need to start leaving our bedding straw outside by the barn door as an incentive for it to rain.
    My garden can’t wait for the weather pattern to change. Last night after milking, Mark and I strung together a couple of long hoses from the barn to the garden. We started watering the potatoes, onions and sweet corn we had planted last week to give them a boost out of the ground. Of course, starting a new routine takes some time to remember all the steps. This morning as we went out to start milking, I remembered I hadn’t shut off the sprinkler before we went to bed. Water puddles filled the trenches between the rows. Everything was well watered. Now to move the sprinkler to the asparagus patch, rhubarb and grape vines.
    Despite the lack of moisture, things are starting to bloom and grow around the yard. Apple and wild plum trees look like bridal bouquets. The soft, sweet scent of flowering crab trees and the songs of orioles fill the air. The grass is velvety soft beneath my feet. There are no mosquitoes buzzing past my ears. I want to close my eyes and treasure this moment in time. While all these events, sights and sounds personify spring, if I had to pick one that sums up May, it would be peonies. The peonies in my garden have been handed down through the generations along with the traditions and stories of my family. It all started just before the Civil War.
    My great-great-great grandfather was a pretty good businessman in Philadelphia. The story goes that he recognized the rumblings of war on the horizon, so he sent his son Joseph west to settle land he had purchased in western Illinois. Now I don’t know if Joseph or his wife, Catherine Wallace, brought the peony plants with them at this time but somehow the plants would eventually be grown on their farm. The Civil War came, and even though my family did not fight, they fed the troops through their work on the land. The war ended April 1865, and soldiers returned home to resume their lives. On May 30, 1866, the first Decoration Day was held to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Businesses closed their shops and community members decorated the graves with flowers and flags. After World War I, Decoration Day evolved to recognize and remember the fallen soldiers of all wars. In 1971, the last Monday in May was declared Memorial Day. Parades, picnics and other celebrations were added to the tradition of decorating the graves as a way of honoring those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms.
    Even though we had few military men or women in our family, we went to Walnut Grove and Stronghurst cemeteries to decorate the graves of our ancestors. Many of these family members were only known to the younger generations by their gravestones, marking the time of their existence. As a little girl, I remember wrapping empty cans with tin foil to make flower vases. Mom would collect irises, lilacs, peonies and other May flowers from her garden in a large bucket of water, then haul all of us to the cemeteries to put together vases of flowers to decorate the graves. She would tell us stories about some of our family members. Mom tells the story of holding her breath while Great-Great-Aunt Maude, a 90-year-old maid, held me as a baby, hoping she wouldn’t drop me. I don’t remember Aunt Maude but her story is a part of my story.
    Every May when my peonies bloom, I am reminded of my family’s traditions and stories through the generations. It makes me stop and think. How will we be remembered? What will we be remembered by? Will the stuff and things we have been collecting over the years be cherished or pitched? Things may come and go, but memories and stories will continue to live and grow throughout the generations. I’m sure my family ancestors didn’t imagine peonies would be the catalyst for their remembrance all these generations later.
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.