‘Tis the season to celebrate Spring,
Bursting with old traditions and new miracles.
God’s Special Mushrooms
By Sandra Fischer
Most people in central Indiana herald spring’s arrival when crocuses burst through the soil and buds start peeking their heads out of cherry tree limbs. As a young girl, I learned that such signs were sometimes premature. Cold snaps would revisit between April showers causing early tulips to close their petals in tight protest. Many an Easter would find ladies attending church arrayed in peculiar contrast – winter coats and flowered bonnets. For me the most reliable sign that spring had arrived to stay was the day I would arrive home from school to find my mother standing on the front porch, waiting impatiently.
"Hurry up," she’d call, "Today promises to be good for us."
I would quickly change to my jeans, and hurry out to the old Chevy, its motor humming, mother at the wheel, ready to head to the woods for our first mushroom hunt. To mushroom aficionados like my mother, finding this elusive, mysterious fruit was her favorite activity. These mushrooms were special, quite different from the button variety at the local grocery. We sought the yellow and gray cone-shaped morels, which resemble sponges perched atop ivory-white stems. Growing in wild, moist woodlands for only a short season each spring, they are a prized delicacy.
My mother’s regard for mushroom hunting could be likened to treasure seeking. While there are special conditions that enhance the chances of finding morels, there are no guarantees. Mother, however, had the reputation of being one of the best hunters in our town. But as I recall this family ritual, I remember that I did not share her enthusiasm. I thought it to be a wild goose chase. I would have much preferred to stay home and play with paper dolls or go roller-skating rather than tramp through muddy woods, slapping mosquitoes.
Yet, despite my disdain for the hunting, I was fascinated by the raw beauty and wonder of the woods. We would fan out in different directions in search of our quest and I would soon be distracted by other discoveries: the bob-whites' call, the rustle of leaves from a scurrying squirrel, the smell of fresh blossoms. My reverie would be broken by a shout that someone had found a honey-combed treasure and we would converge upon the spot, hoping to find more of the spikes erupting from decaying leaves and fallen brush.
Mushrooming requires keen eyesight and great patience. Success meant having right conditions and persistence. I didn’t see why we couldn’t just plant them in the garden and save ourselves a lot of trouble. My mother’s answer to that suggestion was that morel mushrooms were rare and so special that God, in His providence, chose to put them where He wanted.
Many times we would hunt until darkness crept upon us and, if we found the places God had put them, we would leave the woods with our sacks filled with rewards. At home, the aroma of our success would fill the kitchen. We enjoyed the savory, nutty taste of the morels in a variety of ways – in soups, sandwiches or creamed on toast. Our favorite dish was simply to fry them in butter. To me, eating the morels was the best part of mushrooming.
Mother, however, considered the whole process to be a joyful venture, a pleasurable challenge that brought her delight year after year. Mushroom hunting was her passion and anticipating the season brought hope through many dismal winters, until the year she could not go. Major surgery brought confinement to Mother and the doctor ordered limited physical activity for the whole mushroom season. My brothers, sisters and I undertook the ritual at her urging, but we lacked the heart for it and returned home after each hunt with little to show for our efforts.
Mother accepted her detention with resolve and spent her days reading or checking on her flower garden. One day as she poked among the tulips, she gasped, "Oh, come look!" I hurried to see, thinking a garter snake had startled her.
"Look! Can you believe it?" she cried in her excitement. There, amid the flowers was a golden morel, standing on its ivory stem!
"Here’s another one!"
Before long, we had found a dozen mushrooms in the tulip bed.
Mother was right. God does send the morels where He chooses. That year Mother couldn’t go to the mushrooms, so He sent them to her.
Sandra Fischer taught high school English in Indiana before owning a bookstore for several years. Most of her writing is devoted to stories from her experiences growing up in the Midwest. She has been published in Guideposts and several trade journals. Having retired in 2001, Sandra lives in South Carolina with her husband, Craig, where she continues to write. Sandra may be contacted via the Letters page of this magazine.
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