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.
After a little while, Winnie’s mother got a job in another town, so she moved her little family and tried to make it on her own, but with three little ones to care for in the middle of The Great Depression, it was a struggle. This was where Winnie’s mother would carry the one light bulb they had from room to room -- and where one day, when her mother looked in the cupboard and saw nothing there except for salt, she told Winnie, Jeanette and Son to get on their knees and pray -- not for food, but that the pain of hunger wouldn’t be too much to bear. So they got on their knees and they prayed and she remembered that at the end of the first day, she was surprised that the hunger pangs weren’t so bad and at the end of the second day, they weren’t bad either and then at the end of the third day Winnie’s uncle arrived with a bag full of groceries. He said he somehow just knew that they needed it. This was where she learned the power of faith.
Winnie met Cyril Reynolds, called “Bit” by his friends and family, when he and his pal came over to see her sister Jeannette. Winnie had another fellow visiting her, but she answered the knock at the door and when Bit saw the “girl of his dreams” standing right in front of him, he decided then and there that Winnie would not be dating this other fellow and would instead date only him. And Winnie took one look at this tall, wavy-haired, handsome fellow with the infectious laugh and jovial personality and knew she had no interest in dating that other fellow. That summer, Bit walked three miles to her house after work every day and three miles back to his house every night. And after a few months of this, he told her that he was thinking that they should get married because it was just too hard to say goodbye every night (and plus his shoes were wearing down). They were married for over 60 years, until the day death parted them; Bit died with Winnie by his bedside. This was where she knew the power of love.
Winnie and Bit had five children: Shirley, John, Jimmy, Ann, and Linda. Their third child, Jimmy, became seriously ill with Encephalitis when he was just three, damaging a portion of his brain so that he was never able to develop mentally beyond a 3 or 4 year old level. Though they were able to care for him for a while, they finally made the gut-wrenching decision to entrust him to a group home because his care was so all-consuming and they had four other children to nurture. Later, when the other children were grown, Winnie and Bit brought him home and cared for him until his death, finding great joy in his childish sense of humor or his constant singing as he walked through the house. This was where Winnie learned the importance of acceptance and kindness and cherishing every person.
Winnie and Bit had 17 grandchildren. I was one of them. Every time we visited, as soon as we walked in the door during summer months, Grandpa would take us out to his garden, showing off his peas or tomatoes or okra. I learned how to shuck corn and shell peas from Grandma, sitting on the back porch, listening to her sing “Oh Johnny Boy” or “You Are My Sunshine,” and hearing her stories of growing up in Alabama and Georgia during the Depression. This was a place I felt cherished and accepted, certain that I was part of the most special family ever to have walked planet Earth. And, because I grew up in the dry, brown, sandy, wind-blown California desert, this was also where I inherited my love of growing green things.
From Winnie and Bit I learned that although life isn’t always easy, there is always a lesson to be learned and there is always something beautiful around us if we keep our eyes open. And if you have faith and family, and love and kindness and a connection to the earth in your life, you can get through a lot of tough times. From them I learned that my life isn’t defined by the tragedies I face or the things I own, but by the love that I give and I receive, by the relationships that I nourish, by the things that I... grow. I have realized that this little lavender farm is partly the result of Winnie and Bit’s influence in my life -- and my desire to (as they did) put something beautiful and encouraging out into the world. And although they are both gone now, reunited somewhere in heaven I’m sure, how thankful I am for them...still.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife /writer and lavender farmer located in Dundee, Oregon.