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In spring a young man's fancy lightly
 turns to thoughts of love

Donna Sterner

Everybody knows the finish to that. But when I was a little nipper, my dad's fancy turned to mushrooms. That's right...MUSHROOMS!!! We would watch eagerly for the crocus, and then the robin and then my mom's tulips, daffodils and narcissus flowers so lovingly tucked into the ground the previous fall and covered with Mother Nature's rich blanket of soil. It was something my adopted mom, Mary Needy, did every year until her eyes went out in the late sixties. After that she would supervise my adopted dad, Gilmore Needy, making sure that each flower went into exactly the right place. She was legally blind for the rest of her life but she never lost the flair for beauty. But I digress. Let me get back to the mushrooms.

Dad would scout for the May apples, those lush green plants that look somewhat like a shredded umbrella. When they began to open and cover the woods floor with little lakes of green, it was time to look for just the right stick, grab a sack of some sort and head off into the woods to hunt mushrooms. Nowadays the chefs on the Food Network will tout the rich woodsy flavor of the high-priced morel mushroom. It's three to four bucks for a 3-ounce pack of dried morels. The fresh can go for hundreds a pound in some markets! They're the American equivalent of the truffle and just as elusive. And, like the truffle, there were two prized colors. The blond honeycomb was found primarily around fruit trees. My adopted grandmother, Mary Motter, particularly favored the ones we found around apple trees. The color was like golden honey and they were slightly fruity in flavor. The coffee-colored brown ones were more common, found in the woods next to our house and up around Rainbow Lake. There were honeycombs and the common dogleg mushroom that was mostly stem with a little brown cap that looked like the hair of Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame.

My dad would carefully search for just the right stick, even if he had to cut one for each of us. It had to be just right in length and girth. He always made a big deal of the stick and of how to use it properly. It was technically a magic wand. You used it to carefully brush aside the ground cover and dead leaves and the mushrooms would magically pop up to reveal themselves. To a little kid, it was power. And I knew from a very early age that mushrooms clustered. If you found one there were more in a circular pattern. It was every bit as much fun as an Easter Egg hunt. There was also the chance that you'd find more than mushrooms. One year my dad uncovered an old buggy spring from 1905 in the woods right across from Rainbow Lake. It was so cool!

The goal was always to find a gallon or more. My mom's cousin, also our neighbor, Eddie Wantz, always got more. Maybe he had a better magic wand. Maybe he just had a nose for mushrooms. But it didn't matter because the fun was in the hunt and hunt we did so we could bring home the prize. If we got more than a gallon Mom would carefully wash them and put them into the old half gallon paper milk cartons and place them in our big chest freezer down in the basement. Then we would have mushrooms whenever we wanted until the supply ran out and the cycle would start over. I loved those times with my dad. Sometimes we'd spot a fawn and its mother grazing peacefully in the woods and we'd stop and go silent so as not to frighten them. Other times the woods' silence would be split by the squeal of excitement from the little girl who'd just found the first mushroom of the season. Dad would never be out of sight but he would rush to my side to help share in the motherlode of morels that we knew was under the next leaf. Sometime it was there, sometimes it wasn't. It was the luck of the draw and time well spent together.

Even if we only found a sackful, we'd rush back home. Mom would carefully take the root off each prize, split them and soak them in water for up to a half an hour. All the little bugs and silt would float out and she'd rinse them and heat up her trusty old cast iron frying pan. A big hunk of butter, sometimes the good stuff from Castle Farms Dairy, would sizzle in the pan and the mushrooms would follow. Nothing has ever tasted as good as that fresh mushroom sandwich. Now they are used to accent a steak or an omelet. But back them, they were lunch all by their little selves. The texture, the flavor and the fun of the hunt....nothing can come close. And unlike a snipe hunt, you actually brought the prize home from a mushroom hunt...if you were lucky. And I got exercise doing it and quality time with the dad who taught me to fish, shoot a .22 rifle and ride a bike on the old go cart track on the other side of Route 15. I can sit here and gripe about how bad things are these days, but then I'd turn into my grandparents. I prefer to relive the good times in the video album that is my mind. Which would you prefer to do? Think about it.

Read other articles by Donna Sterner

Editor's Note: Donna Sterner was born and raised in Emmitsburg. While she physically resides in Dallas Texas, her heart still resides in Emmitsburg.