I never had any luck with four-leaf clovers. At least not that I know of, although I have found four-leaf clovers. One early spring, as fifth grade was winding down and I think our teachers were tired of trying to keep us occupied, when it was finally sunny, when the mornings were cold but the afternoons were warm enough that we could go out without our winter coats as long as we did a lot of running around, we were released to the playground. I’d heard somewhere that when wild onions pop up that means the last frost has passed. That’s not really true, I’ve noticed, but it’s still a sign that spring is springing. The clumps of wild onions on the playground also meant the grass hadn’t gotten high enough for the lawnmowers to start running yet so it was easy to find whole clusters of clover spreading across the ground. Maybe that’s why a group of us stopped running around and settled down to hunt for four-leaf clovers. And we each found some. They’re supposed to be rare, which is one of the reasons they’re considered lucky, but they weren’t that hard to find. A couple of my friends each found a five-leaf clover, which I guess is supposed to be twenty-percent luckier although I’m not entirely sure of the math when it comes to clovers, and someone else found a six-leaf clover, and then someone found a seven-leaf clover and an eight-leaf clover.
There was nothing else special about the day, though, and nothing exceptional followed. I think I did all right on a math test the next day in spite of getting tripped up on what one hundred divided by five was. I kept some of the four-leaf clovers I found and pressed them in books, but the only result was that a few months, or, in some cases, a few years later, I’d pick up those same books again and find a dried four-leaf clover I’d forgotten about somewhere in the pages.
Four-leaf clovers are a symbol of Ireland, although they seem to get confused with shamrocks, which get further confused by the fact that no one seems to agree on what exactly a shamrock is, except that it’s more of a sham than a rock. One kid told me the clovers I’d picked weren’t really clover but pigweed, but when I looked it up “pigweed” referred to an entirely different plant that doesn’t look anything like a clover. That’s common names for you.
I’ve also found that four-leaf clovers, and clover in general, have some folklore attached that goes well beyond just luck. In northern Italy there’s a belief that if a traveler falls asleep on his back by a certain stream a white dove will drop a four-leaf clover on his chest and if the traveler wakes before the clover fades he’ll gain the power of invisibility. It’s much more likely that a dove flying over is going to drop something else on you and you’ll be lucky if you’ve got a spare shirt. There’s also a belief that if you eat a four-leaf clover and slip another one in someone else’s food so they eat it you’ll fall in love with each other, which seems like a terrible way to win someone over. And there’s a belief that a single clover—it doesn’t even have to have four leaves—in a walking stick will make the traveler lucky. Maybe the weirdest one is a belief that a four-leaf clover can prevent, or cure, a condition called “the purples”, spotting caused by bleeding under the skin. A few years later I’d wish four-leaf clovers could cure the pimples, but that’s another story.
Clover was just one of the grasses that popped up on the playground. I already mentioned wild onions, but there were also dandelions and henbit and that weird weed that sends up tall stalks topped with a seed head. My friends and I would twist the stalk around on itself then pull it so the seed head would pop off, hopefully in the direction of a teacher who wasn’t looking.
They were all just common weeds but they were a sign that winter was finally over, spring was happening, and summer was just ahead. They were all lucky in their own way.