I lost a good friend today. She was 85.
I'll never forget the first time I met Alice. Back in 2000 I was assigned to the Tuesday morning Master Gardener hotline crew and rumor had it they weren't a group to suffer fools. But that didn't mean they didn't like to fool around among the cubicles where we dispensed horticultural information to the good people of Sedgwick County.
This tiny little wrinkly woman, with a pronounced hunch and brisk manner yet a mischievous twinkle in her eye, came in my first day and immediately starting talking about her new garden experiment. She was going to take all the expired birth control pills from her clinic and sprinkle them around her garden like time-release fertilizer, she put forth a theory that the hormones might do her plants good. I think she was serious or maybe just putting on a little act for the new girl. I'll never know.
Through the years I came to learn that she had been a Navy nurse in Viet Nam. She was especially proud of introducing dental hygiene practices to the people in the village where she was stationed. And then at 74 she was still keeping to a schedule of nursing and volunteering that exhausted me just to hear about it.
She didn't take to me at first. I had to prove my worth. She and Ann and Jean knew the special ringtone of the office phone that signaled a "client" in person vs a phone-in, which they would selectively hesitate to answer. Inevitably I would always get the call to go out to the front room and have to diagnose on the spot whatever plant disease or pest was presented to me. This baptism by fire just made me a better gardener. And eventually respected by these gals, particularly Alice.
A few years before I moved away. Alice took on another job, a labor of love. She had no children of her own, but she had nephews, probably great-nephews, that were in need of a loving and stable home. At 80 she was made legal guardian of two teenage boys. She added driving to games and parent conferences to her schedule. I dubbed her the "world's oldest soccer mom".
I identified with her feelings for her nephews, having helped to raise a nephew myself. When she was diagnosed with cancer, her greatest fear was not being there for "her boys". I know she was trying to hang on until they were both 18. The older nephew, Nick was just honored for leadership skills in conjunction with his ROTC unit. Devon is hopefully following his brother's example with his interest in computers.
Even after I moved away, I would get those scratchy hand-written cards and letters from Alice talking about her boys, her garden, and perhaps a little gossip.
She always said she was going to write a story about "moonlight gardens" for our newsletter. She researched it when she was between phone calls. Later I realized that the subject was dear to her since she often didn't get to see her garden except by moonlight at the end of her shifts.
Alice, I hope you are somewhere where the sun always shines on your garden so you can see it. But I still like to think of you out there in the twilight tossing those pills around your flowers!