Two of the greatest poems in the English language begin by invoking the month of April.
The American-born English poet T.S. Eliot’s best poem, “The Wasteland,” begins thusly: “April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, milking / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.”
And the famed English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s legendary “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” begins: “When in April the sweet showers fall / And pierce the drought of March to the root and all / The veins are bathed in liquor of such power / As brings about the engendering of the flower.”
And the old saying celebrates April, noting that “April showers bring May flowers.”
April 1st, of course, is April Fool’s Day. In some countries, it is called “All Fools’ Day.” The origin of April Fool’s Day is obscure. Most accounts attribute its origin to the Middle Ages when April 1 became a day in which practical jokes, pranks, or hoaxes were played on unsuspecting naïve people, i.e., upon “fools,” who were easily “fooled.”
After an unwitting recipient of a practical joke, prank, or hoax had been “fooled,” he or she was further humiliated by being called an “April Fool.”
Prior to the 18th century, New Year’s Day was celebrated in many places on March 1, which was then considered by astronomers to be the first day of spring. The preceding brutal winter had finally been vanquished. In other places, April 1 was considered to be the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
In Lake Geneva, April has always been an especially welcome month. Although the month of April was not immune to late season snowstorms, the worst of winter was over. The ice on Geneva Lake usually “went out” during the first or second week of April. (This year, the ice was gone on March 29.) Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and the other bulbs of spring bravely poked their heads above the ground, heralding warmer days to come.
The baseball season began in April (although this year it began earlier, in March). As a member of the Lake Geneva High School baseball team during the mid-1950s, I recall having to shovel off the baseball diamond in Dunn Field, which was covered in snow after an early April snowstorm. The excursion boats began to arrive at the Riviera docks in April after spending the winter on the lake’s shore in Williams Bay.
Much of what happened in April depended upon whether Easter (and the Jewish holiday of Passover) occurred in March or April. I remember celebrating Palm Sunday and Easter week at the First Congregational Church in Lake Geneva. On the Maundy Thursday of Easter week, the church held an evening service during which Communion was celebrated. My job, as a member of the church’s Pilgrim Fellowship youth group, was to fill the Communion glasses with Welch’s Grape Juice before the service. God forbid that wine be used in a church of strong temperance origins. Good Friday services were held from noon to 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church and other churches in Lake Geneva.
In the early morning of Easter, members of the Pilgrim Fellowship would hold an Easter sunrise service on the lake’s shore at Covenant Harbor. After the service, we would go to the Congregational Church where we would serve as wait people at the church’s annual Easter pancake breakfast.
Jim and “Lefty” Hanny, the father and uncle of the late Col. James Hanny, would be in the church’s kitchen flipping pancakes made of the Hanny Restaurant’s famous pancake mix. When the Easter service began, the church would be filled to capacity with parishioners dressed to the nines in their new Easter finery.
April 15 was always dreaded, being the day that income taxes were due unless the 15th fell on a Sunday, in which case taxpayers were granted an extra day’s reprieve.
In 1970, a new holiday, Earth Day, was founded by the U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005). Earth Day is on April 22 each year, the anniversary of the birth of the renowned conservationist, John Muir (1838-1914). Earth Day calls attention to the ecological crises confronting the globe, including pollution and climate change.
Four days later, on April 26, another holiday will occur: Arbor Day. The first Arbor Day in the United States was celebrated on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton (1832-1907), a Nebraska newspaper editor and governor of Nebraska who was the secretary of agriculture in President Grover Cleveland’s cabinet. On the first Arbor Day, about one million trees were planted in Nebraska.
Arbor Day celebrates the contribution that trees make to the environment. In Lake Geneva this year, a tree will be planted on the city’s property just north of the former Chicago and Northwestern railroad tracks east of Sage Street just north of its intersection with Geneva Street on April 27. The tree that will be planted is in honor of the late Ed Yeager, a former member of the Lake Geneva City Council and of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission.
Early April features the NCAA basketball championship game. This year it was scheduled Monday evening, April 8. The last four days of April will feature the 2019 National Football League draft. Most readers will be carefully watching who the Green Bay Packers draft; a smaller number of readers will be carefully watching who the Chicago Bears draft.
May Day, May 1, will usher in the month of May. Three weeks later is Memorial Day when Lake Geneva’s summer once again prevails for the ensuing three months until Labor Day.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.