Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Remembering Lois Walton Townsend

On the anniversary of her passing and in memory of a woman who inspired the Lois Townsend Community Garden at EH Miller School, we are pleased to share this remembrance by Lois' daugther, Sophie Dacote. 

Lois Walton Townsend

September 25, 1918 – August 8, 2009

Lois Ann Walton was born in 1918 Palatka in a house that she would call her home for most of her 90 years.  She was the youngest of four girls and from her earliest beginnings she was an anchor in a safe mooring while the tumultuous world raged around her.  Her longevity made her a sort of time traveler enabling her to cross a sea of time, and
experience at the end of her life a Palatka far different than the Palatka of her childhood.   She would come to know the devastation of the Great Depression, the fear known by many who suffered or confronted the racism of the time, and a war that would rape the world and separate her for four long years from the one she loved the most.  Lois would also know the gift of a loving family, a gift she would share with her own seven children, an amulet which each one carries and treasures to this day.  She would know her God and maintain an abiding faith as long as she could draw breath.  She would reach out to the trembling world and provide comfort and solace wherever she could.

And she would know the simple joy of gardening.

Lois Walton Townsend’s meditations flourished with her hands immersed in the soil.  She loved the silent service of fruit and flower.  Gardeners are by nature caretakers, nurturers, and often defenders of the plants and flowers they tend and oversee.  These traits permeated the life of Lois Walton Townsend.  As a young girl, she enjoyed and appreciated the fruits and fragrance of the trees and flowers surrounding the old homestead.  Throughout her life, she loved regaling family members or really anybody with stories of picking figs, cumquats, oranges or Japanese plums and pecans on her way to ride her beloved pony  Gypsy or to watch and pet their sometimes cantankerous cow Mooney.  She shared many happy memories of climbing the magnolia tree and pretending along with her sisters that they were gods and goddesses on Mt. Olympus, their ambrosia the cache of fruits and nuts mixed with the heady fragrances of magnolias and orange blossoms.

Lois’s happy childhood colored her loving personality and her role as devoted wife to Bill Townsend and doting Mother to their seven children.  Lois was many things to many people and she served in many capacities.  She was a very intelligent, quick witted person with a generous, tolerant heart and a fun loving spirit.  She had a genuine grace that came with an easy laugh and a great appreciation for celebrations and tradition.  She celebrated the early morning blooming  of a gloriosa lily, the first sighting of lilacs appearing at the edge of the swamp behind her home, or an outing to pick blackberries that she would bake into her famously delicious blackberry roll.  Once, she told me that she was not defined by her children.  However, each of her five sons and two daughters are somewhat defined by her and her love of beauty and nature.  One night she gathered up her children of varying ages and no doubt some of their neighborhood friends to wait and watch for the night blooming jasmine to appear.

Lois was always tending a flowerbed of some sort or size.  She would probably have described herself as a “weeder”  instead of a gardener.  Days she had time for gardening always including clearing the invading weeds and her efforts awarded her interminable braggin’ rights.  Every visitor, family or friend, would be greeted with , “Look how much I weeded today or she might gently caress a rose bloom or plant to showcase it while encouraging her particular audience to inhale its fragrance.  Her children sometimes dreaded Mother’s Day because her request was always the same.  The only gift she ever asked for was time spent with her working in the garden.

 Lois was an extremely loving person.  Love was her indelible signature and it extended to all manner of people and things with one clear exception.  Lois Walton Townsend hated grasshoppers, and yes, she trounced them soundly at every opportunity.  Also, she did this with little regret or remorse because it was in defense of her garden.  That is, until one day when she was happily weeding accompanied by a beloved grandson who was supposed to be helping her.  Her grandson’s attention to weeding turned to what he found as a more interesting pursuit constructing something with dirt and found pieces of rock and shell.  Lois, the attentive grandmother, inquired from her weeding perch what he was making.  His answer startled her when he said, “It’s a hospital for injured grasshoppers.”  Lois continued to fight the invading pests but generally in a more thoughtful and organically preventive way.  From that point on, the occasional squished grasshopper forever after gave her pause.

For the better part of her 90 years, Lois Walton Townsend loved, planted, weeded, and rejoiced in the beauty of nature and gardening in all its forms.   The garden was mystically intertwined with her spirituality; a place of giving, reflecting, sharing, worshipping and a place to savor the radiant joy of creation.  The idea of a flourishing community garden would have thrilled and inspired her.  She would have enthusiastically promoted its promise and participated in its growth.  It is a great tribute to her life and memory to have this garden named for her.  She would have been so honored because Lois Walton Townsend knew the simple joy of gardening.