A never give up attitude seems to draw people to Naomi Wallace, 85, of Monette. She has battled cancer, a severe car wreck, surgeries, loss of loved ones and even Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to continue doing the thing she loves most…working in her flower gardens.
(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
"This is the place where I was born and raised," Wallace said. "Every plant and tree here has a memory behind it. I enjoy being a caretaker of it all. Being out in my gardens each day just gives me a lift and make me thankful to be alive."
Mrs. Wallace lives on the homestead property of her parents, Joe and Verna Harrell, where six generations of her family have thrived.
"My grandfather, Joseph Wyatt Harrell, gave this farm to my parents as a wedding gift and we have been here ever since," Wallace said. "My children and grandchildren have come to treasure this house, yard and farm through the years for its significance as part of our heritage. There are trees here that are over 100 years old, but the flowers are always new and fresh."
Mrs. Wallace spent a year with her mother in the tuberculosis sanatorium in Boonville as a child, worked on the farm chopping and picking cotton, walked to school, lived through the great floods of 1927 and 1937, and endured the Great Depression era. So handling hard times had been no stranger to her.
In 2000 Mrs. Wallace broke her neck in a car accident and recovered. In 2004 she was diagnosed with Follicular Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. In 2005 she got Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. In 2007 she had 95 percent of her colon removed. In 2008 she has completed two rounds of chemotherapy and got the results from tests this week saying everything seems to be under control. She put on her work clothes, picked up her hoe and headed for the garden.
"I let my gardens get away from me this spring while I was recovering from surgery," Mrs. Wallace said. "I have been playing catch-up ever since. My friend Patsy Holmes and I have fought the bermuda grass and weeds all summer, trying to get rid of them. Despite the undergrowth the flowers have bloomed and flourished, like they were not even aware of the encroaching weeds.
"One day three young boys from up the road stopped by to offer me help me in the garden. I couldn't get over how enthusiastic they were. They had such sweet spirits. They moved rocks, drug the water hoses around, pulled weeds and dug out the grass. I tried to teach them about the joys of growing flowers despite the hard labor."
The young volunteers were Houston Pendergrass, 14, Caleb Bruce, 16, and Lane Pendergrass, 10. They have been friends of Mrs. Wallace for some time as they often help her move things, explore the barn like Ghost Busters, and trap opossums and wild animals.
"We have had a lot of entertaining conversations in and around the house despite the hot weather," Wallace said. "They come as often as they can. We mostly work in the early part of the day. I keep them supplied with tall glasses of iced sweet tea and lemonade. We often take a rest in the shade as the day heats up. "
A wide variety of birds, butterflies and bees visit the flower gardens, which always make for an interesting study. The colors of the garden never seem to clash even though they include a varied pallet and assortment of cultured and wild plants.
"When we get still for a moment we can watch the hummingbirds," Mrs. Wallace said. "The boys are amazed at how many different kinds of birds and insects are attracted to the flowers.
"I told them I am attracted to the flowers in the same way. I can hardly wait until the sun comes up each day to go out in the garden and look in the faces of my lilies. I just hold them in my hand and look inside to marvel at their color and design. Each one is different and each has it's own beauty...just like people.
"My father told me to always look for a thing of beauty every day. I have no trouble in fulfilling that request in the gardens. I also find things of beauty in my neighbors that take care of me. Tink and Kevin Wimberley stop each day to see if I am OK. They may just stick their heads in the door and say a few words if they don't see me outside. It's like having a neighborhood watch way out here in the country.
"One day I had a big shovel and was working on a pile of dirt. Roy Anderson stopped by and told me to put that shovel down, that he would move that dirt for me. He came back later and leveled it out for me.
"Stephen Pendergrass saw me tugging at my hose and having trouble making the connection so he got his tool kit out of the truck, fixed my faucet and helped me relocate the hoses.
"My friends tell me I am killing myself out here, but they don't know that nature has the best healing properties. My mind is busy as I work and I pray, sing, reflect on the past, and anticipate the future. I am out here at the crack of dawn, but do not work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as that is the hottest part of the day.
"I think you have to have goals as you age, and have something to look forward to. When I go to bed at night I plan what I am going to do the next day. In the winter months I plan my gardens for the coming spring."
Mrs. Wallace is a national Scrabble winner and plays with her friends in Jonesboro each week. She teachers Sunday School at the First Baptist Church each week. She is an accomplished seamstress and has won titles at the Northeast Arkansas District Fair and in state competition. Her parents and former husbands, Joel Sipes and Pat Wallace, are deceased, but she stays involved in the lives of her two children, Connie Heidelberger and Rodney Sipes, her three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her interests are wide and varied and she maintains a positive outlook on life.
"I am never closer to heaven on earth than I am when I am in my garden. I have had many hours of joy here and I don't plan to give it up until I just have to," she said.