First They’re Yellow

Another tourist, I think Fiona said she was a German girl, was searching for a word. She asked Fiona, “What do you call the flowers that are yellow, and then they’re white, and they go ‘Poof!'”

Dandelions.

After remembering the anecdote, Fiona picked a dandelion and blew away the dandelion fluff. To my confusion, this is what she did with it: She asked, “What time is it?” and blew a short puff of breath at the dandelion head. Then she said “One o’clock,” and blew again. And she alternated between blowing short bursts of breath at the dandelion and reciting the hours of the day, until all the seeds had been blown away. “Two o’clock.” Puff. “Three o’clock.” Puff. Etc.

A privileged glimpse at the English schoolyard dandelion ritual. The American dandelion ritual, or the one that was most common in my corner of Eastern Washington during the ’80s, involves making a wish and trying to blow away all the dandelion fluff in one breath. Maybe there are some regional variations, I don’t know.

I stopped handling dandelions when I was pretty young. Someone pointed out that each fragment of dandelion fuzz was a seed and that dandelions are classed as weeds. Blowing out a dandelion would be akin to planting a hundred weeds and I didn’t want that hanging over me head. (I was a bit neurotic and maybe a little sensitive about our lawn.)

I don’t remember what I ever wished for whenever I blew out a dandelion or a birthday cake. I always felt foolish making a wish, I could never think of something that warranted one.

[Correction 6/6/03: I misremembered. The anecdote at the beginning wasn’t Fiona’s, it was Tracy’s.]

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