Guest blogging today is George’s favorite sister, Diane, a fabulous historian. She’s writing about her mother, one of the finest people I’ve ever know. Thanks for the memories, Diane.
My mother was the most law abiding person I ever met. This trait went beyond any ethical positions in her beloved nursing career, it went beyond taking the AARP safe driving course every year between 55 and 90 when we took the keys to the car away because her peripheral vision was gone. And it reached beyond using both hand signals and flickers when making turns.
However, Mom was also the biggest rustler I ever met and I think I was the cause of all her lawlessness. One year after I’d moved to Pennsylvania, I gave Mom Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Songbirds, and she had my brother build three bird feeders and squirrel guards plus the metal cages to hold suet for the winter birds. She enjoyed the Field Guide so much, I gave her Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Wildflowers the very next holiday. And therein lies trouble, trouble, trouble.
You see, Mom’s property sloped downward in the back toward the creek that flowed through the subdivision. She and Dad had purchased a double lot, about an acre and a half. She fenced the entire lot so the dogs could run freely and safely. She enjoyed planting flowers and never met a tiny tree she didn’t love, right where it planted itself. So the property was abloom all spring, summer and fall. Although she had a tendency to plant the tall flowers in front of the small flowers so from the road, it was a little strange. But she looked at her birds at the feeders and her flowers from her windows in the house, so it made sense to her.
Back to Peterson and his wildflower guide. Mom’s property had a steep fall away from her garden area down to the creek and it was very shady with old trees – walnuts, oaks, maples, elms. Her decades of theft began on a trip to Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. On the way home, she made Daddy stop five times so she could take a trowel and dig up wildflowers along the road. She was very well prepared with plastic bags and wet paper towels. It wasn’t until five years later that I came to Kentucky in the Spring; prior years I’d always come at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Proudly Mom showed me the delicate trillium, the snowbells, the jack in the pulpit, the dog-toothed violets, Virginia bluebells, tiny flowering grasses, coral bells, lilies of the valley, wild strawberries, and dozens of other gentle splashes of color as the sunlight cascaded through the budding trees.
Oh my God, my Mom had become a wildflower thief. “Mom, this is against the law,” I said quite self-righteously (having just received my 10th point on my New Jersey drivers license for speeding across Princeton.) “No it’s not,” she insisted. “I’m reforesting.” “What?” I said with emphasis. “I’m taking the hillside back to its original Kentucky shade lands.” And then she put her hands on her hips and tilted her head like a sparrow…subject closed.
There in the midst of a subdivision where most of the people poisoned the creek with lawn care pesticides so their lawn could gleam like a golf course, where all the house plantings were carbon copies of each other, where they hung planters of cascading annuals to brighten the greenery, my Mom had recreated God’s natural woodland. So I decided, since I was the one who gave her Peterson’s Field Guide, I’d simply testify to her innate goodness if she was ever arrested for wildflower rustling.
The reason this all came to mind was this week when my daughter said she was starting to look for perennials for the shady part of her property. I almost sent her Peterson’s Guide to Eastern Wildflowers….No, No, No.
* * * I need to add to this. When Ollie (my mother-in-law and Diane and George’s mother) visited us in Missouri in 1968, she did the same thing. Wherever we took her and Grandpa, she had her trowel and box in the trunk. She’d make George stop while she leaped out to dig up a plant she’d not seen before. She wasn’t only reforesting the hillside to its original Kentucky shade lands, she was also reforesting is back to Missouri shade lands.
Also, by the time she’d lived in that house for forty years, the double lot was covered with live Christmas trees she’d planted every spring. They’d reached enormous heights . Other trees filled in. This meant the interior of the house was very dark and mowing the lawn was like going down a slalom slope, but she was happy and that, really, is what counts.