A Tour of Jubilation

Written By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Several weeks ago when Kitch was finishing the most difficult part of her battle with breast cancer, we received a kind note from one of our former students. It began with these words, “Great news to hear Kitch is done with her chemo! Congratulations! Next step it is!  Be on the lookout for the mailman today, maybe tomorrow.”

When the mail arrived, it contained an envelope with two tickets for the 2011 Tour of the Back Mountain Gardens, and an invitation to a private reception. Both events are organized by the Back Mountain Bloomers Garden Club.

Since that day, Kitch and I have been thinking about the invitation, and hoping we would be able to participate.

One month to the day Kitch finished her last chemotherapy treatment and less than a week after her portacath removal surgery, we were on our way to the first garden on the garden tour. It was a beautiful July morning. Following the directions to the first stop on the tour, we parked our Toyota Tacoma in front of a big red barn on Hildebrandt Road.  Then we boarded a shuttle bus, driven by, Jessica, a smiling undergraduate from Misericordia University.

As we approached the registration table at the entrance to the first garden, we were greeted by Mark and Maureen Albrecht. Kitch worked with Mark during the 80’s at the local NBC affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. Kitch was the assignment editor and Mark was the chief photographer.

Our reunion with Mark and Maureen was one of several pleasant surprises on this very special day.

The first garden on the tour was a wonderful example of how a gardener can transform a large space between a home and dense woodland into an inviting, interesting and visually attractive enclave with lush flower beds, bird feeders, a playhouse, a patio and a swimming pool. Everything worked together in harmony with the environment. The inclusion of Lamb’s Ear, one of my favorite plants, endeared me to this gardener.

Kitch was very interested in the squirrel-proof birdfeeders. After a brief conversation about the bird feeders, we left the garden. We made our way to the driveway just in time to climb aboard the shuttle bus, and our driver, Benjamin, took us back to the red barn.  

From there we drove about two miles to what only can be described as a wonderland of boulders fashioned into a unique garden.

Floyd Trudgen has a gift. He can take enormous boulders and make them into attractive waterfalls, tables and stone walls. While Floyd is working with heavy equipment, his wife, Cynthia, climbs the staircase to her studio located high above the ground and surrounded by trees. There she makes gentle strokes on canvas to give birth to images of World War II heroes like Leon Flynn, Amish children, and country scenes. Her paintings bring back memories of our yesterdays in ways that touch the heart.  

Without question, this was the most unique garden on the tour.

As we were about to leave, a woman approached us, and she spoke these words, “We have something in common. Dr. Harostock saved our lives. I read your book, and I know all about your open heart surgery.” Christine Siroky is a delightful woman and someone you would want to have as a next door neighbor. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and we promised to stay in touch.

At our next stop we walked the year-old paths of the Shakespeare Garden at Misericordia University. This peaceful and thought-provoking space was the heart and brainchild of our friend Agnes Cardoni.  It is her legacy to the school she loves and the teacher, Sister Regina Kelly, who empowered her to become the outstanding teacher she is.

As we approached the garden we met a charming woman with her granddaughter. She smiled at us, and then she stopped to tell us we had taught her daughter. Our conversation was just getting started when Lisa Lindquist, her mother and her sister approached us.

Standing in the shadow of the Shakespeare garden, we reminisced about our teaching days. We posed for pictures, and we exchanged hugs of admiration and friendship.

It was the most joyful moment of the day.

When we arrive at the garden Mike MacDowell, the president of the university, and his wife Tina were greeting people at the entrance. Local artist, Sue Hand, was recording her vision of the garden on a small canvas supported by her well known brown easel.   

On this Saturday morning, we received a warm greeting from Walter Chamberlain. Walter is a talented designer who worked with Agnes and members of Back Mountain Bloomers to build this garden. It is one of Walter’s favorite projects.    

Before we left the garden we had a good conversation with Barbara Soyka. Barbara is a master gardener who knows everything there is to know about the plants in the garden. She enjoys telling the story of the garden, and she has a new appreciation of this place and its significance.

Like Kitch, Barbara has been walking the long dark gravel road called cancer. They share the same surgeon, Dr. Dan Kopen and the same oncologist, Dr. David Greenwald.

Knowing what I know about this dreadful disease, this moment had meaning beyond words. In a place dedicated to literary genius and teaching excellence, I was watching two modern day heroines whose very presence spoke to the value of life and the struggles people will endure to guarantee life.

To paraphrase the bard, these two women were looking into happiness through the same eyes.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The next garden on the tour belonged to Charles and Nancy Brown. Located in a rural setting, the owners went out of their way to accommodate their guests. The two teenage boys who served as parking attendants did everything they could to keep traffic moving smoothly in and out of the parking area.

Inside the garden one felt the calm excitement of a garden party. 

In every section of the garden, people congregated in small groups to discuss the attractive setting, the lush perennials, the inviting patio and the pool area.

The rolling lawn and the carefully maintained flower beds added a special beauty to this garden. It reminded me of a 19th century scene from America’s rural past.

Several visitors were attracted to the plant stand, where a bountiful supply of colorful plants was available for purchase.  

Kitch was taken by the brilliant decorations on the patio table.  

This garden reminded me of pictures I had seen in Fine Gardening Magazine. But even in this tranquil place, there was a reminder that life is full of unexpected surprises. Nancy Brown, like Barbara and Kitch, is a cancer survivor.

As we walking toward the parking area, we had a wonderful moment with Karen Brek. We met Karen when we were producing Voices of Wisdom in a World of Change for the Max Rosen Lecture Series. Karen is Atty. Joe Savit’s administrative assistant, and a delightful person who loves her work as a volunteer during the garden tour. 

At the entrance to Peg Yascur’s garden, the fifth stop on the tour, we were greeted by one of our favorite people, master gardener Roseann Nardone. For us, Roseann defines what gardening is all about. She is peaceful, thoughtful, caring, knowledgeable and helpful.

Before we entered Peg’s garden, Roseann described it as a garden of love. Once inside the garden Peg’s daughter, Wendy, provided context for Rosenn’s comment.

The garden is sixteen-years-old. Peg, who is now 80, started the garden shortly after her husband’s death. She converted his vegetable garden into a panorama of 40 perennial plants laid out in the way traditional gardens were designed. Some of the most brilliant Bee Balm I have ever seen resides in Peg’s garden.

Kitch was drawn to Peg. They struck up a conversation and, in no time, they became fast friends. We were so taken with this garden, its gardener and her daughters, late in the afternoon, we made a return visit. Kitch sat with Peg on a bench underneath a tree. They talked about plants, recipes and life. They exchanged contact information, and Peg gave Kitch a jar of her strawberry rhubarb jam. We are looking forward to the day when Peg can visit with us in Windsor Park.

One of the most serendipitous moments of the day happened when a woman appeared out of nowhere to ask us a question about Windsor Park Stories. Her positive comments about the series touched my heart in a very special way. During our conversation, I learned about her association with the Children’s Museum in Bloomsburg. It will definitely be a stop when our granddaughter comes for her fourth Windsor Park Camp next spring.

The last two gardens on the tour are located in neighborhoods. They adorn large, fashionable properties that are very well kept. Garden number six is well established and lush with a mixture of perennials and shrubs. A large pool area is surrounded by perennials.  On this sundrenched July afternoon the pool was host to two swimmers.

When we arrived at this property, we were greeted by a Boy Scout who made a very positive impression with his polite and respectful greeting.

The tour ended at a garden that is emerging. Located in a delightful setting it was designed by the amiable creator of the word “Bodacious,” Rob Rave.  Rob was available to explain the design of the garden and the large waterfall he constructed. It was without question a very impressive water feature.

All in all, it was quite a day for both Kitch and me. We enjoyed the gardens, the people we met and the memories we made during our first weekend out and about since Kitch was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As I was driving home, it occurred to me that in all of our travels searching for the Face of America on its best day, never had we met so many people who fit this description; the members of the Back Mountain Bloomers Garden Club who organize and administrate this wonderful community event, the gardeners, like Peg, who conceptualize, cultivate and nurture these gardens, the volunteers who work long hours to assure that everything runs smoothly and every visitor will have an enjoyable time, the people at Misericordia University who volunteered their magnificent campus and its facilities so there would be a home suitable for the exhibits, the reception, and transportation to the first garden, the people who donated money to help finance the event, and the more than 500 people who purchased tickets for the event.  

There is one person who carried the responsibility for all of these activities, Lisa Lindquist.  She was the chairperson of the event. 

Lisa is a woman with two wonderful gifts, competence and caring.  Kitch and I knew her as a most impressive student who worked days and went to school at nights for almost ten years to earn her college degree.

On this weekend, people who attended the garden tour knew her as a woman who did an exceptional job.

Lisa Lindquist is the person who invited us to the events associated with this year’s garden tour, and we will never forget her kindness to us. By every measure we know, Lisa is a Face of America on its best days, and we are in her debt.

Thank you Lisa for this day of Jubilation.

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