Friday, May 25, 2012

Lois Walton Townsend Garden at EH Miller School-Palatka, Florida

by Dr. Eric Jump

Affirmation in the Garden

Lois Townsend was a gardener, a very special gardener who had a way about her that delighted those who knew her.  No meeting was casual: her pleasure in meeting new and old friends alike was immediately evident, a momentary celebration of sorts.  Her complete focus, bright eyes and smile made it evident that every encounter was fulfilling for her, even when she needed to disagree or correct, a teacher at heart.  She was fiercely strong
minded and focused, yet, above all, she was modest and kind.  She was in good company: her sister was Kate Walton, one of the first female lawyers in Florida.  Kate came to international attention when she sued and eventually won a law suit against Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings of The Yearling and Cross Creek  fame.  Kate was dedicated to defending the socially disadvantaged or abused as was Lois.  The Lois Townsend Garden at EH Miller School for special education is a place dedicated to the character and good will of Lois.  This is a place where those with special needs can come for that affirmation that was at the core of Lois’s existence.

To be with Lois in her garden was a treat, similar to reading a favorite story: plants were a sort of “memory palace” relating to people and events.  She could chronologically trace the spread of golden-red Gloriosa lilies spaced on trellises.  She would draw the eye from native hydrangea upwards to blooming trees, each with its own history of people, events and storms.  All the while the aromas from her meal preparation in the kitchen filled the air.

She was born, married and raised her seven children and later grandchildren in the “brown house” by the river surrounded by her garden.  She knew she would also eventually die there.  Her garden was an extension of herself.  Always nicely dressed, she would apologize for not being better attired if you interrupted her work unexpectedly.  Though working hard, she would glow with admiration for both her visitor and her garden plants.  Bringing the two together was a special delight for her.  She would offer you starts of her plants, but it was more than giving a plant.  It was Lois offering something of herself to show her love and affirmation and connectedness to you.

When Lois had an allergic reaction with the threat of losing her fingers to gangrene, she readily consented to applying leeches to debride the dead tissue.  She developed an even greater appreciation of nature and the earth when her hands healed.

Lois was not a respecter of persons, that is, people of all kinds delighted her and she respected and valued them.  She had no evident cultural or social bias.  All were welcome.  Her smile and sparkling, knowing eyes were appreciative, focused, penetrating and affirming.  There was no superficial connection here.  Treated like a precious gem, a person felt as if she cherished them above all others.  Yet when one compared notes with others, all had the same experience.  She had the gift of leaving each person with the feeling of having just had a life-affirming experience.  It was a kind of healing experience not unlike the satisfaction gained from gardening; the hard work, stress and sometimes disappointment culminating in life’s enjoyment.  Whoever you might be, never having met Lois, you would have experienced the same pleasure.  Though she is gone, what remains is the universal healing experience that she embodied; resonating in time: past, present and future.  Hope was central to Lois Townsend.

Mrs. Townsend was an educator who when presented with what was generally accepted as fact would quite succinctly hone in to the crux of the matter that no one else had thought or wanted to identify.  She passed this detailed look at life to both her children and grandchildren.  Her love of gardens and nature trained her eyes, ears and mind to pick out what was actually there but not evident to others.  Her acknowledgement and descriptions of sounds and beauty of her garden were not those of an outside observer, but rather those of someone immersed in its music.  She found such pleasure and solace in her garden.  She carried her garden attentiveness and delight with her everywhere.  An innate appreciation of life on all levels allowed everyone she knew to experience a soul-enriching, restful confirmation of life’s great values.

In our increasingly technological age, the sounds and sights of nature call all the more loudly to soothe and focus our hearts, minds and bodies.  May the caring spirit of holding every single being as uniquely precious that actuated Lois Townsend always be a vital objective and guide for the Lois Townsend Garden at EH Miller School and for all who garden.