This, the last of the columns about our delightful and somewhat unexpected attendance at the 2018 American Daffodil Society Convention, after I’d missed Sacramento last year and figured it would be the rare one I’d get to go to, fills two days, but it could have been more.
We weren’t in any hurry to get up on Monday morning, and really looked forward to our last meal with our favorite waiter, and with saying a goodbye to friends, now that we’d all seemed to fit in with the 2024 New Zealand trip possibility, and as Vicki said, where are we going next in the United States? She believes that if she’s got her Seri attachment, and the car’s been checked thoroughly, there’s nowhere she can’t drive us to.
Now you all have heard me saying endlessly in this column that my next “bucket list” destination was the Huntsville Botanic Garden, a simple garden half-way between Montgomery and Birmingham. Anybody who is on Facebook and subscribes to the extra group named quite simply, The Daffodilian, sees on a daily basis great pictures of current flowers in bloom - specimen trees, rare or more common azaleas, all along the pathways. And all of this was put together by Mike Gibson, who has only recently retired from the gardens fulltime.
More than a year ago, when a picture appeared of ‘’Tokyo Delight,” I wrote Mike and told him that this was the favorite hydrangea of my longtime friend, now deceased, Delia Bankhead, and did he know any commercial source.
He answered that no, he really didn’t, but he’d happened, just that week to take some cuttings of it and would send me some. I gave him a gift membership to the ADS on that offer (and yes, he has faithfully renewed it for himself and given a gift membership to the gardens).
I think Vicki was more impressed by his email in February that if we’d just let him know when we would be there, he’d have a proper wheelchair reserved for us. She was hoping that a class act like a Botanical Garden would at least have working footrests, and when she saw that it indeed did, she immediately checked off “interested in membership” on the list. Before we left, we’d both joined as three-year members, and have been trying to figure out a way to get back, sometime in midsummer, either selling great-grandson Mason on going to see the marvelous Lego blocks outside and the puzzle indoors, or her husband Pete on the Rocket Center, which is its next-door neighbor.
But she soon delighted in the wheelchair, and how simple it was to push, with her agreeable passenger happy and comfortable, and able to have lap room for purses, and the like. She could easily turn me around, so I didn’t have just a 180-degree vision, and not being tired, I could occasionally get up and stand and take pictures of things like the model train station.
Then she started noticing that much of the garden was just open space, and widely spaced trees, trees she recognized but maybe just grown a little better. Nothing like the elaborate Gibbs Garden, and not sounding like my beloved Callaway Gardens, which I’d talked about endlessly. Just like a garden she’d enjoy.
Obviously, we weren’t going to get back to Madison by the end of Tuesday, so we read about the organization of the gardens, built on land the city could share and that the space center would pass on.
One example of the practical frugality - a long article explained how they could not afford a glass-enclosed year-round butterfly house (which I have always avoided because of what that dampness does to your hair.) Instead, they have a well-screened lattice house for butterflies that are happy in the Alabama heat of midsummer.
So reluctantly, on Thursday, we started home, and I don’t recommend that hour, with the blazing sun staring you in your face all the way to the I-55 stack turning north.
But one of Vicki’s driving commandments is that the engine doesn’t run without at least a quarter of a tank full, and she unerringly found the left turn, somewhere in the neighborhood of Pelahatchie, that took us to a good supply of gasoline, and the same sort of “stuff” we’d been shopping at all day.
And when we went back to the car and got in, I had a great insight into how things had changed. I put things routinely in the door shelves, and had my water cup, which I’d dried out, and thought I’d carefully wrapped three little matching pebbles Vicki had given me, that she’d found on one of the open gravel roadways back at the Huntsville garden.
I could only find two, and that wasn’t enough - I had to have all three. In the darkening twilight I searched frantically, in the door pockets, on the car floor, even outside. Then suddenly I thought to look in the New Zealand handbag, where I’d kept the cup originally, and there, intertwined in the bottom of the bag, now giving way, was the third one.
Why was this so important to me? Three pebbles, from a special place, meant she’d now become truly my “soul sister.” You see, on the window ledge in the kitchen, where I have certain places for certain vases, and where nobody could move anything, were three other special collections of pebbles - some I’d picked up off the Coast of the Tasmin Sea in New Zealand, a threesome of jade chips, from that same New Zealand trip, and at the far end, a set, over the years, from a special service at Galloway.
We decided they’d go at the left end, placing them next to the larger than large blue gin bottle, a gift of Becky Matthews, whom Vicki knows well.
There used to be an iron-clad rule that no vase of any size was to be moved on the window ledge. But Vicki would take some of them, the smaller ones, and use them in other locations for small bouquets of daffodils.
Then, when Kevin decided on the grand-cleanout, and built the eight-inch shelving along the east wall of the pantry, Vicki would choose one of the large vases that were my mother’s, and use a wide variety for a major bouquet for the center of the display. And it made me very very happy to be reminded of my mother, and to see the pleasure and gifted sense of color that she’d use in making flower arrangements.
But for her to realize that she too was “family” and could bring her own collection of pebbles, meant so much to me…and I think every day about how much my mother would have enjoyed Vicki.