The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was my sister Stephanie. I didn’t always think this of course -- in fact, one of my earliest memories was of my sister breaking my favorite doll. And then there were covers she stole in the middle of the night in our shared bed. And later there were the clothes she borrowed and didn’t return. But then again, I wasn’t the best sister to her either. Apparently, when we were young, I told her that the crows flying over us would swoop down and carry her away if she wasn’t careful. This instilled in her an unreasonable fear of crows that has carried into her adult years. (Sorry Sis).
But somewhere along the way, I realized that my sister was absolutely essential to my life. Maybe it was after she was in a minor biking accident when we were young that this became clear.
Tomorrow is my birthday. But instead of celebrating me, I would like to celebrate the woman who brought me into the world. Because it wasn’t easy. And because this is my first birthday without her.
It was a “minimally invasive” back surgery. She was supposed to recover at my house for 4-6 weeks -- time I was looking forward to. The last few years had been so busy, and I hadn’t made as much time for her as I should have. But because she wasn’t quite ready to navigate the few stairs at my house, the hospital released her to a skilled nursing facility to begin her physical therapy. A week at most, we thought. She was such a good patient and hard worker. We knew it would only be a week and then she would be at my house, and we would be watching movies, and talking about books, and about my kids, and anything else that we thought of. But she left us the next morning. And we still don’t know what happened.
Well here we are in the beautiful and snowy Willamette Valley south of Portland at the beginning of a new year, renting a house while we begin our search for Little Lavender Farm #2. We made this move because Mark landed his dream job -- and because it would allow me to follow my dream as well. Yes, I love my Little Lavender Farm in Escondido, but there was only so much I could do with it. My dream is to have five or so acres, with a few acres of different varieties of lavender, as well as keep bees, plant a big organic garden, maybe host a few events, and eventually have some guest cottages. And while I was certainly able to achieve some of this in Escondido, the land was like cement, the water was scarce, and I spent most of my time teaching high school. So here we are where the land is fertile, there is plenty of water and I’ve got a little more time to chase these dreams.
Along with this reflection comes some news to share.
Mark and I are pulling up roots in San Diego to embark on a new adventure in the Portland Oregon area. Mark landed his dream job as the director of software development at a company in Wilsonville Oregon. It all happened rather quickly so my head is spinning a bit, but I’m very excited at the same time. So I will be leaving this home I love in search of a new one.
This has gotten me thinking a lot about home and what it means. Is it the physical structure? Is it the friends and family nearby? Is it the love inside the home? Is it where your soul is most at peace?
Noah was in 4th grade when he transferred to Explorer Elementary School, part of the High Tech High Village in Point Loma CA where I had just started working as the 12th grade English teacher. The transition was tough for him -- new people, new approach to education, early mornings due to our 35 minute commute and early staff meetings. So I was concerned, but not entirely surprised, when I received a call during the middle of my class that Noah had run out of Explorer’s building and no one knew where he had gone. I quickly told my class that I needed to leave for a few minutes and then ran downstairs to our dean, Brian, to tell him what was going on. “Let’s go find him,” was his response as he ran out of the door with me to search for my 9 year old boy. We split up to cover more ground -- and about 10 minutes later I got a call from Brian saying that he had found Noah in the grocery store parking lot a block or so from the school. I was relieved and grateful for his help, but I didn’t know the half of it. A few years later Noah told me what happened in that parking lot and what a big impact it had on him: Brian saw Noah and Noah saw Brian -- but instead of running after him (as I would have), Brian stopped and just waited. After a few minutes, Noah slowly walked across the parking lot to Brian, who said to him, “I knew you would make the right choice.” Think about that for a minute. “I knew you would make the right choice.” Not a scolding or a lecture, but an affirmation. What a profoundly empowering statement. The seeds of confidence and thoughtfulness planted in Noah that day took root and continue to grow.
Winnie’s first memory was of her father being laid out for burial. He was wearing bright white socks. She was 2 ½.
The day that her father was buried, her Grandfather Napier came and took Winnie and her mom Ruth and her little sister Jeanette and big brother Son to his farm in Alabama. This was where she swept the dirt in the front yard and caught frogs with her cousins. It’s where she was pulled from quicksand by her brother hanging down from a tree limb. It’s where she and as many uncles, aunts and cousins as could squeeze into (or hang onto) her grandfather’s new car would ride into town for supplies. This was where she learned the strength of family.
I’m sitting in my brother John’s living room this morning, listening to my 18-year-old son Noah playing legos with his 4 and 7-year old cousins Matthew and William as if they are 1) the same age and 2) best buddies. Through my own fault and skewed priorities, these cousins had never met until yesterday, and yet somehow they know each other. The Reynolds eyebrows, the sunny personalities, the silliness, the laugh — all feel familiar to them and so create an instant connection. I feel the same way. I love his family instantly and wish that we lived closer. More specifically, I wish that I had made more of an effort to see them because right now, I can see what I’ve missed out on. I see Johnny’s quiet, observant nature in William and my mother’s optimistic, giving qualities in Matthew and the curious, active personality of my brother James in little David. I see glimpses of my grandmother and grandfather in the farmers that my brother and his beautiful wife Kate have become on this 36 acre slice of heaven in Northern California. And as I listen to these cousins play, I am reminded of my own cousins and how much I loved them (still do). I’m reminded of how much I looked forward to seeing them at my grandparent’s house — and the mischief we would get into (well, truth be told, it was usually Greg, Hugh, and Kent that got into mischief, but we all relished in their mishievery). Those were days of climbing trees and hide and seek and grandpa jiggling our chins and grandma’s stash of candy on the piano. They were the days of sleeping in the living room with my sister and Sheryl and Sue, of Pepe the dog singing along to Grandpa’s harmonica, of listening to all of the grownups laughing and playing card games at the dining room table. Even all these years later, there are long- standing inside jokes and references that ground me every time they are mentioned.
Grosso lavender smells wonderful and is great for soaps and sachets, and although its buds stay on the stem pretty well, it is a duller purple and it also isn’t good for culinary uses. Gros Bleu is a vibrant, almost navy colored purple and makes good oil, but it sheds pretty easily so it isn’t great for dried bouquets. Royal Velvet is a vibrant purple and is great for culinary uses and bouquets, but is a smaller plant and the oil is too sweet for body products. Spanish lavender has a milder smell and really cool bloom, but it’s not good for bunches or to use for bundles, sachets, or soaps. Each of these lavenders is beautiful and useful in its own way, and fulfills all of my needs as a lavender grower. I love them all and appreciate their unique contributions to my little farm -- it would be a little less interesting and a little less beautiful without any one of them.
So it is with the many colors, backgrounds, gifts, contributions, perspectives, preferences, and experiences of people. We would be much less interesting and a lot less strong without the many different people in our communities, who each contribute in their own unique ways.
Reflecting upon the importance of diversity, whether in our ecosystems or our communities, reminds of a trip I took during my high school teaching days with a group of thirteen students to Europe. We were lucky enough to have spent a few weeks exploring the culture, history, food, music, and art of France, Switzerland and Germany. From climbing the Eiffel Tower at 11:30 at night and finding our way back to our hotel using our collective memories and a map, to a half-remembered tour of the beautiful art of the Louvre as our jet lag was kicking in, to the Bavarian tradition that demands that you stand up and sing if you drop your bread into the fondue bowl, to a Lake Lucerne cruise in Switzerland where we chose our future summer homes, the trip was full of fun, laughter, and great memories. But going into the trip, my main goal was to open my students’ eyes to the wonderful surprise of difference—different foods, different greetings, different mannerisms, different uses of resources, different means of travel, even different toilets—with the hope that they would see that these differences should be embraced and learned from.
As might be expected, there were many questions throughout the trip, many of them barely hiding a complaint. “Why in the world do we have to pay for water at a restaurant?” “Why is there a bathroom attendant at the public restroom that we have to pay?” “Why do people stare at us?” (as they yelled excitedly to each other across the room). With each question or complaint, they got the same response from me: “Isn’t this great? We get to see things from a different perspective!” Then we would have a quick discussion about why that difference might exist and how that difference might be a good way of approaching things. For example, paying for water leads to less waste, a bathroom attendant ensures that the bathrooms are safe and clean, etc. Though I got a few eye rolls for my enthusiasm, it was worth it when all of these more trivial lessons led up to a much more serious lesson—the consequences of intolerance—which came on our last day in Germany, when we visited the concentration camp at Dachau.
Walking through the iron gates that we knew so well from pictures and old news reels, with the words “Arbeit macht frei” (work brings freedom) shaped into the bars, the solemnity of our visit was clear. This was a place to honor those who had died, to educate those left behind, to reconcile and heal the peoples that had been affected. One of my students, obviously shaken, quietly put on his yarmulke and after a quick hug, slipped away to pray. We didn’t see him again until it was time to leave. The rest of us went into the theatre for a brief presentation on the history of the place and the atrocities that took place there, and then set out to see with our own eyes what we had only read about or seen on the screen.
Walking down the tree-lined path, it wasn’t obvious what had happened here. Even looking at the one remaining barrack with its rows and rows of wooden bunks, the history of this place didn’t sink in. It wasn’t until we walked to the end of the gravel path behind a row of trees where the crematorium was located and saw the multiple ovens, and then stood in the “bath house” with its heavy doors and gas outlets, that it became real. Human beings suffered here. Human beings were treated like animals here. Human beings were experimented on here. Human beings died here. Someone’s dad, or brother, or sister, or uncle died here. And it was here that my students made the connection: fear and intolerance of people who are “different” can lead to this. They walked through the area in pairs or threes, arm in arm, with respect, reverence, and empathy, struggling with their emotions and with tears in their eyes as they imagined the horrors.
The bus ride back to our hotel was quiet as the students processed what they had seen. All eyes were cast down or looking out the window. But that evening at dinner, they were ready to talk as we gathered together to share our different responses and what we could learn from the experience. Differences should be celebrated. Differences aren’t necessarily bad. Accept, love, learn, and work together. Their thoughtfulness and empathy were moving. This was one lesson that couldn’t be fully understood from reading a book.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, an experience was worth a thousand pictures. And what a privilege for me to share this experience with such thoughtful human beings who will forever look at the world and at difference from a new perspective.
“Never Again” says the memorial inside Dachau. After this experience, I am hopeful.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife /English teacher and lavender farmer located in Dundee, Oregon.