Friday, September 9, 2016

A Not 'Too' Southern - Southern Garden Club - A guest post by Teresa Payne

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate garden club membership and the enduring friendships created there than to honor a long time garden club friend in this special way.  Read along with me and enjoy this wonderful tribute by guest blogger Teresa Payne  - Thea

I love all things Southern – maybe because I have family roots in Goldsboro, North Carolina – where my grandfather was a farmer of tobacco, cotton, and corn, among other things, and my grandmother made homemade biscuits daily and got her hair done every Friday at Naomi’s hair salon.  Every time my parents travel through the state, I always ask them to bring me back a pint or two of barbecue – vinegar based, of course –  for my family to enjoy.

When I moved into my neighborhood over a decade ago, I received the most amazing homemade pecan pie from my new neighbor – the most genteel Southern woman you would ever like to meet!   Even though my address is in Northern Virginia, I quickly noticed from my welcoming committee that we were clearly South of the Mason Dixon Line.  I never imagined that years later,  I would be a member of her garden club, the Red Hill Garden Club.  Membership comes with the privilege of admiring her stunning arrangements and beautiful horticulture, and enjoying more of that delicious pecan pie.

The Red Hill Garden Club was founded in 1955 in Alexandria, Virginia and was named for the area of roads branching off old Braddock Road, which was originally known as Red Hill.  Red Hill is featured in “Virginia Ghost Stories and Others” by Marguerite DuPont and Lee Publishers in Richmond, Virginia.  Charter members of the club lived in this area.  Today, the club is still thriving with 36 active members and a waiting list of new applicants who want to join.

 I look forward to the monthly garden club meetings where it seems that at least one item on the menu hails from the South.  Last month, it was the homemade cheese straws appetizer.  The rosemary gives them an earthy taste while  a hint of spiciness from red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper add the zing.  Our members are always happy to share recipes, too – that’s part of their Southern hospitality.

While attending a garden club field trip on the Eastern shore of Maryland – still South of the Mason Dixon Line, but barely  –  my neighbor, the Southern pecan pie woman,  truly became my friend. That day, I learned many interesting facts about Mrs. Em Rusch.  She is the longest active member of the club, joining in 1978; is a past President, and is a Shomo Award winner. 

(The distinguished Shomo Award is given to an active member of Red Hill Garden Club who supports the services and activities of the club, and exemplifies the ideals set forth by the founding members through her enthusiasm and dedicated participation.)
As we meandered through mature gardens of magnolias, boxwood, and azaleas Mrs. Rusch told me a beautiful story of how she fell in love with her husband, Al, of nearly 50 years.  She met him in Bermuda; he in the military and she a teacher.

Just dating - Enjoying a rugby game in Bermuda
 They dated until her term expired and she went back to Virginia.  On the plane home, tears welled up in her eyes and she never thought she would see him again.  Two weeks later, he got a weekend off and showed up on her doorstep.  As they say, the rest is history. 

They got married and lived in New York City while he attended law school and she taught school.  She grinned at me, the edges of her mouth turning up slightly, and sweetly said in her Southern drawl, “The funny thing is, I never thought I would have married a Yankee.”

Mrs. Em Rusch on her wedding day

We laughed and I thought to myself how fortunate I was to have spent the day with her on a garden tour and remember the moment where she transformed from being a contemporary of my mother’s into my new Southern friend.
Mr. and Mrs. Rusch, Bermuda 2015

This year, Mrs. Em Rusch decided to change her status to Honorary, which is permitted for those members who have been active in the club for a minimum of 35 years. Her new Honorary status is certainly a testament to her dedication, commitment and love of our Red Hill Garden Club. She still plans to attend several meetings throughout the year - and it will be an honor to see her there!

Teresa Payne was born and raised in Alexandria, VA where she also currently resides.  Teresa joined the NCAGC's District II Red Hill Garden Club in January 2014.  Her mother, Janet Baker, is also a long-time member of Red Hill and is Teresa's inspiration.  When she's not gardening, writing and parenting, Teresa works full time for the federal government.