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Food For Thought

Sometimes cloudy, often rowdy, wet and warm, calm then storm, hot then cool, April fool!
The fourth month of the Gregorian calendar year, April has 30 days. The Romans called it Aprilis, derived from aperire (“to open”), probably because it is the time of year when buds begin to open. It was called Eostre (Easter) month by the Anglo-Saxons, in honor of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox (the day in spring when night and day are of equal length throughout the world). Two of our Easter traditions, the Easter rabbit and colored eggs, both representing fertility, arise from this festival.
Playing tricks on the first day of April is a custom among Americans and Europeans. In France, the victim of such practical jokes is called an April fish; in Scotland, a gowk or cuckoo; and in English-speaking countries, an April fool.
My maternal grandmother was a great tease and loved practical jokes, so it was quite natural for her six children to pick up the habit. They delighted in such things as fake ink spills, hot pepper chewing gum and the inevitable dribble glass (to which they subjected every dinner guest ever invited to share a meal with them). And those were perpetrated on any day of the year; April first was reserved for more elaborate and carefully-planned pranks. Reports of two-headed calves being born, invasions of rattlesnakes in the root cellar, fake elopements and variations thereof were common subjects of frantic, early-morning long-distance calls.
My mother, leaning toward a more subtle approach, used the day as an excuse to rouse her sleepy-headed daughters on school mornings (or on non-school mornings when we were too drowsy to realize it was Saturday) by bursting into our bedrooms with some alarming announcement or guilt-provoking question. The one that got me out of bed the quickest was some variation of the following: “Mildred, what have you done here? What is this thing?” Guilt and curiosity always had me on my feet in an instant, ready to defend myself in the face of whatever totally innocent thing she obviously misunderstood. After all, what teenager doesn’t have at least one guilty secret from their mother?
In earlier years when I was much younger, she could get much the same effect by announcing it snowed overnight and school was canceled, causing me to anticipate a day building an igloo, flying downhill on my Flexible Flier, and consuming warm oatmeal cookies and mugs of Mother’s famous cocoa topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. My sisters and I would spend considerable time and effort during the day trying to get even with her for so thoroughly fooling us in our half-asleep mode. She was difficult to entrap, though, and if she ever did seem to fall for one of our ruses, we halfway suspected she did it just to give us the satisfaction, or possibly in hopes we would give it up and quit bothering her.
I began to feel more interested in history when I discovered I was born on Paul Revere Day, April 18, 159 years after his famous ride. (Which, incidentally, is exaggerated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ballad “Paul Revere’s Ride;” actually, British scouts detained him en route, but one of the others got through to the patriots in time.)
I always thought it was special to have been born in April and some of my favorite people share the privilege with me– Aunt Agnes, whose birthday was on the 16th, and two much-loved and admired women who are writers, and with whom I, for several years, got to celebrate our birthdays. Most of the people with April birthdays, I know, are women. I think of us, collectively, as “April Girls,” and like to think Ogden Nash wrote this birthday poem especially for us, not just for his wife.

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy.
April soft in flowered languor.
April cold with sudden anger.
Ever changing, ever true
I love April, I love you.
- Ogden Nash