What is the most meaningful Christmas gift you ever gave or received?
Lucile Nelson, also known to local Kodiak gardeners as “Luc,” was an avid gardener. Her yard reflected a passion to grow and nurture flowers as if coaxing them to achieve their best. Located at the zig-zag corner to Selief Lane, near the community gardens, her long patch of flowers lined the cyclone fence, which was barely visible among the festive grove of primroses, orange calendula and purple delphiniums.
Luc, a spry woman who reminded me more of a fairy than a human, gardened not only for herself but also for everyone who passed by.
In 1996, Luc moved to Whidbey Island, Washington, to live with her daughter. During my trips to visit Dad, who lived on the other side of Whidbey, I often stopped by to have tea with Luc, and to listen to her stories and admire her recent oil and watercolor paintings.
Born in 1915, Luc spent her first years in Colorado.
“We were poor, and didn’t have much,” she told me one fall day as we sat by her canvases and table of paints. “One of my jobs was to go outside with my sister to collect dried dung to burn in the woodstove. I was so embarrassed.”
Times were tough. Her father died in 1918 during the flu epidemic. I asked her about holidays and Christmas: “What was your most memorable gift, Luc?”
She looked down for a few moments, clutching the mug of tea in her tiny hands. “I don’t know how she managed to do this, but Mom gave each of us five kids an orange. That was the best orange I ever ate,” she said.
Luc loved to memorize poetry and had a repertoire of at least 50 poems, two of which she recited on her 100th birthday.
Luc would have been 105 years old in November. So in the spirit of her love for gardening and poetry, I’d like to share this poem written by another gardener-friend and writer, Marianne Binetti.
HOE, HOE, HOE!
’Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the yard,
Not a gift was given, not even a card.
The tools were all hung, in the carport with care,
with hopes that St. Nicholas soon would repair.
The shovel with blade all rusty and cracked,
The pitchfork still shiny, but handle it lacked.
When out on my lawn, (it’s brown and abused)
I could see poor old Santa, looking confused.
No list had been left for Santa to see,
No gardening gifts were under the tree.
But wait there’s still time, it’s not Christmas yet,
And gardening gifts are the quickest to get.
You can forget the silk tie, the fluffy new sweater,
Give something to make the garden grow better.
If she wants a gift shiny, then don’t be a fool,
It’s not a dumb diamond, but a sparkling new tool.
If fragrance is listed you can forget French perfume,
It’s a pile of manure that’ll make gardeners swoon.
Give night crawlers, not nightgowns, the type of hose that gives water.
(Anything for the kitchen is not worth the bother.)
Give a great gift that digs in the dirt,
It’s better than any designer-brand shirt.
Now look quick at Santa, this guy’s not so dumb,
Under his glove, he hides a green thumb.
His knees are so dirty, his back how it aches,
His boots stomp on slugs, (he gives them no breaks).
The guy only works winter, you can surely see why,
The rest of the year it’s a gardening high.
Elves plant in the spring, pull weeds merrily all summer,
In fall they all harvest, but winter’s a bummer.
And so Christmas gives Santa a part-time employment,
Till spring when the blooms are his real life enjoyment.
So ask the big guy for garden gifts this year,
Seeds, plants and tools, Santa holds them all dear.
You see malls may be crowded, vendors hawking their ware,
But visit a nursery, stress-free shopping is there.
Now Santa’s flown off, to the nursery he goes,
And his voice fills the night with loud Hoe! Hoe! Hoe! Hoes!
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