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Article Published June 24, 2004

Save Our Stories while Tending Your Garden
By: Fawne Stratford-Devai

Modern genealogists are challenged today as in no other period in history. On the one hand we have this incredible resource of online information, instant communication and a growing number of online databases. At the same time, we represent the keepers of our family's history. As genealogists we often spend hours online, in libraries and archives searching for that missing date, the next generation, the great-great-great grandparents brother. But we often forget to document the history that we are living and breathing today. I was reminded of this dilemma recently when picking Lily of Valley in a friend's garden. Suddenly a host of family stories came flooding back to me as I stared at the little sprig of a lily.

Flowers have always been an important part of my relationship with my Mom, Mary Stratford (nee Clayton). Holding the bouquet of Lily of the Valley in my friends' garden I suddenly remembered how the beautiful little flowers made my Mom sad. They reminded her of the death of her mother, Mary Ellen "Nellie" Clayton (nee Rhodes). As my grandmother's coffin was being taken from her home to the cemetery, the pall bearers had to swing the coffin over my grandmother's flower bed which were filled with Lily of the Valley. After that day, the scent of Lily of Valley always reminded my Mom of her Mother's death. Sadly they also remind me of my Mom's passing and the last day we were at the family home to clean out her belongings. That would turn out to be the day I was most useless in helping to take care of her affairs. I spent most of the time sitting on the back step crying because I knew it would be my last visit home and that there would be no more beautiful garden carefully tended by my Mom. As I walked around the garden, behind a mock orange bush I found a single sprig of Lily of the Valley blooming. When I picked the little sprig of lily I knew from that moment that Lily of the Valley would also connect me with the passing of my Mom.

But flowers also brought beautiful memories of sunny days in the back yard. Simple things like sitting on the step with my Mom talking as she watered the flowerbeds or riding a bike along a path surrounded by wild flowers. I will never forget when my Mom was dying of brain cancer and I had the opportunity to take her home to Yorkshire to visit her family. It was a cold and dreary week in February made all the more difficult because of the situation and the fact that Mom had not been home since leaving 33 years before. On the plane over Mom lamented the timing of our journey because she would not have the chance to show me the beautiful Christmas Rose. A flower she had told me about for many years, that in so many ways was Yorkshire to her. On the first morning of our visit while staying at the Cow and Calf hotel on the top of Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire the owner overheard my Mom and I talking about the Christmas Rose. Giving us a rather quizzical look she asked us to accompany her to the garden. There at the back of the hotel under a little bell jar was a white Christmas Rose. The owner herself was surprised that it was still blooming. That night after visiting family in Keithley we returned to the hotel to find two beautiful Christmas Roses sitting in a little vase on the nightstand between our beds. Mom died a short two weeks after returning home. Years later my husband and I visited Yorkshire and stayed in the same incredible hotel. This time our visit was in June, a time of beautiful flowers but long past the blooming time of the Christmas Rose. On the first day of our visit we spent the day quietly reflecting on the incredible scenery amidst the most beautiful garden of the hotel. Imagine my surprise when the owner came out and remembered me from my visit with my Mom years before. She smiled and then openly chuckled while she asked my husband and I to come with her to the garden patch up against the back of the hotel. There, she carefully bent down and showed us the beautiful Christmas Rose blooming exactly where I remembered it - but in June! As she walked away I heard her muttering to herself, "Well that explains it!" Like me, she understood that my Mom could communicate with a flower.

As spring and summer begin to merge in a field of colourful flowers I hope you take the time to share a story and nurture the next generation with a memory that you have discovered while tending your garden. Please help to save our stories by writing them down and sharing them with the next generation.

Always remember, your research, and your stories are the legacy you leave the next generation.

Fawne Stratford-Devai, 2004

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