The Hendrickson lawn seemed enclosed by a border of trees and shrubs and bushes, a permeable wall that separated the house from the fields, inhabited by birds and other wildlife. Inside the border were flowerbeds and plantings around the house, a rectangular napping swing suspended between two big hardwoods, and cool shade in the heat of summer. Outside the border was the wide-open sunny world.
An arbor formed a passage between the two. As children we stepped through the arbor into a shady patch of lilacs with a sweeping view of the fields. Three wondrous things appeared: At our feet, a shallow pond with lily pads and darting orange-gold fish in the dappled light. Beyond the shadows, stacks of white boxes buzzing with honeybees. And in between, a little Dutch windmill.
I have a murky memory of crawling inside the windmill, seeing the fields framed by its tiny window. I had to be very small to fit. I also remember rediscovering it sometime later, and turning away confused, unable to enter. We grew so fast that suddenly, Alice-in-Wonderland-like, we had become too large to fit. Instead, to relive the experience, we wanted to give a younger sibling or cousin the magical experience of ducking inside and looking out the tiny windows. It was an early lesson in perspective. My dad, shown in this photograph in 1938 or ’39, must have made sure we experienced the same wonder he had.
On visits to the Hendrickson farm, a couple miles east of the our farm, my great-aunt Effie always welcomed us. She lived on the Hendrickson place with our great-uncles, Harold and Alvin, caring during the 1960s for our petite great-grandmother. Effie, Harold, and Alvin were three younger siblings of my grandmother, Viola. Theirs was a family of 12 children, including a cousin raised as a sister after her own mother died.
Having fun and sharing the joy of creation were clearly priorities to the Hendricksons. We never felt like tag-alongs or after-thoughts. Effie, Harold, and Alvin hosted their nieces and nephews for years, so they had plenty of practice when the next generation came along. They enticed us to visit by discussing in front of us their newest baby animals—a calf or piglets, lambs or kittens, maybe a bird that had built a nest in some convenient spot for viewing. They mentioned when the goldfish had been moved into the pond in the spring and gave notice again before bringing them back in for the winter. They let us know when honey collection or processing was planned.
Years went by and the next generation was welcomed, too. Effie maintained magnificent gardens, adding her own touches. Another kind of windmill joined the scene. In the photo below from 1990, Effie (on the left) is still hosting, now with her widowed sister Ethel (on the right). My son—grandson of the boy in the windmill picture above—is the littlest one sitting up on top of the Hendrickson farm’s century rock.
Effie became the sole survivor among her siblings. She no longer lives at the Hendrickson farm, so there is no windmill to see, no honeybees or goldfish. But last summer, I took my son’s four-year-old daughter to visit Effie and her legendary dollhouse. At home we practice nature vocabulary (birds, trees, flowers) from a ring-binder scrapbook made just for her by Effie. My granddaughter is part of the fourth generation to be touched by one remarkable teacher.
This month Effie turns 100. She still entertains a steady stream of Scrabble-playing guests and beats them. Generations of nieces and nephews from as far away as Seattle are coming to honor her. Once again we learn a lesson in perspective.
Photos by Viola Hendrickson Marty (top) and Linnea Wahlstrom (bottom)