John Shuff and his lovely bride, Margaret Mary, circa 1960
Like death and taxes, spring always arrives—even in South Florida when you think things can’t get much better than the winter season. When I was growing up in Cincinnati, the first signs of spring were the tiny buds on our magnolia trees in the backyard, the patches of green grass struggling to emerge from underneath the melting snow, the smell of mom’s apple cobbler cooling on the sill of her open kitchen window.
Spring is my brothers in the driveway with no shirts on, holding the garden hose, washing winter away from the family’s Buick Roadmaster. Raising hell was turning the hose on one another as we danced through the spray (and yes, we drank the water from it—not from a bottle—and no one got sick). I can still see my brothers climbing the leafless trees in the woods behind our home. We had a few sprained ankles and a variety of cuts and bruises. We wore no helmets nor arm pads, and somehow we all survived. Spring was my dad buying bags of peat moss and fertilizer for his soon-to-be-reawakened garden. It was returning to South Bend from spring break to be with my girl, Margaret Mary Scanlan, an undergrad at St. Mary’s College. I was nuts about her and loved her company—still do. We met almost every evening, meandering everywhere hand-in-hand. I snuck a kiss or two and dreamed of the day when we would be together forever.
By spring break my cash flow was usually depleted, so I would apply my Marketing 101 course—“How to Hitchhike”—and “thumbed” it from South Bend to Cincinnati to save money. The trip wound through beautiful Indiana and usually took seven hours. I took Route 31 south to Indianapolis from Notre Dame to the Route 100 bypass and headed for home. I picked this route because there was a hamburger stand that bragged it had sold “over 1 million burgers.” It was my first encounter with McDonald’s, and since 1958 my affinity for their burgers has continued.
Hitchhiking is pretty much impossible today, but even back then it was tough. There were no interstate highways, just two-lane country roads. I had to make it easy for someone to pick me up and not feel threatened. To merchandise myself, I made a huge sign that read “Notre Dame to Cincinnati” and wore a shirt and tie. It really worked! Drivers who picked me up always commented on my appearance. It never failed and speaks to the validity of the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Spring is here again, and it’s a season I still love, even though the hormones no longer rage with the intensity and passion of youth. The independence and freedom represented by those carefree springs has now been superceded by the same beautiful days embroidered with the complexities of adult life. But there are lessons from those wistful spring days that can energize the spirit—and bring a smile to your face. Dream this spring. Dream like you did as a kid. Dream the impossible. Visualize your thoughts and make them live. Dream big and have the courage to fail—it will be good for your soul. And then sneak a kiss, maybe two. I promise it will rekindle an old flame that has long been burning.