By Jane Wolery, MSU Extension Teton County
A few weeks ago, when I was away from my office phone, Neil Van Lierop left me a message. Hearing his voice and name brought a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart. While I would not say I know Mr. Van Lierop well, having only met him once while he and his wife, Lore, were in the area; what I do know about him is all good. When I think of him, it is in bright and vibrant colors of spring, glowing smiles, kindness, and generosity.
Nearly twenty years ago, I wrote an article that was published in our local newspapers, the Choteau Acantha and the Fairfield Sun Times. The topic was on choosing bulb flowers, something I knew little about, so I referenced a Consumer Reports article on the topic. I could not have predicted that the owner of Van Lierop Bulb Farm (highlighted in Consumer Reports) would read that piece. He has friends in the Augusta and Fairfield areas and receives the local newspaper.
Photo ©Jane Wolery. Used by permission
Photo ©Jane Wolery. Used by permission
The following spring an unexpected box arrived for me at the office. Inside were fresh-cut, unopened, spring flowers. I cannot remember now whether the first box contained daffodils or tulips. I think there were about three hundred that I quickly took home and put in water. A few weeks later another box arrived, and later another box. For several years, the boxes continued to arrive. One spring, I believe I received four boxes in total, each containing 500 or more flowers. My memory could be as generous as the Van Lierops, but I think one delivery contained 1000 tulips!
I could do the research to find when the article was published to know the exact year the flowers started arriving, though I doubt I ever will. How I recall the timing and year satisfies my heart -- and the heart does not need specifics for its recollections.
I tie the arrival of the flowers with the year 2004. At the beginning of the year, we had another arrival. Our daughter, Bellamy, was born on January 5, adding a second girl to our family. Her older sister, Darynne Delaynie, would turn three near the end of February. We were happy. Two healthy little ones and a beautiful community in which to raise them.
One Sunday, while I was on maternity leave, I was cleaning a hallway closet, when the phone rang. It was my mother calling from the hospital in Chester to say that my dad was in an ambulance headed for Great Falls. The doctor in Chester told them that Dad had a brain tumor. I shared the news with my husband, took a deep breath, packed the diaper bag and my beautiful baby girl, and headed to meet Mom and Dad in Great Falls.
In my life, I have come to know that sweetness and sorrow both come wrapped in the intensity of Love. The next two years were spent watching my baby gain the abilities to balance, eat, walk, and talk; and watching my dad, in varying degrees, lose those same abilities.
If I try, I can recall the stresses and strains that filled those years. I was working in what I have always considered a more-than-fulltime job. I was a single parent for three months each of those years as my husband’s work took him away. What I recall far more easily than the specific struggles is the sacredness of that time. I think of caring and giving, and of community and kindness.
Among those kindnesses were the flowers that came from Puyallup, Washington, where spring arrives earlier. The vibrancy of their colors giving a hopefulness that hard seasons of life will give way to easier ones.
I think part of what has made those parcels so precious is that they arrived to lift my spirits when it seemed most needed. This fall as my mom was going through photo albums and scrapbooks, she ran across the photos of the girls when they were little sitting amidst the hundreds of tulips. Mom called me to get the Van Lierop’s address to write them as all these years later those photos remind us of the unexpected kindness and divine timing of generosity from someone we did not know.
Many years have now passed since I received shipments of flowers from Neil. He has retired and sold the largest portions of the farm. This spring he was calling to make sure that my address was the same and I would be available to receive some daffodils. We played a little phone tag, but appropriately when we connected, I was south of Augusta, an area he loves. I pulled to the side of the road on that bright sunny day and visited with Neil while I looked out across the pastures to the snow in the crevices of the Rocky Mountains. He has now seen 83 springs seasons on that place and has retained his home on a small portion of what was the farm. He told me that on one corner there was now a restaurant where several hundred people enjoy meals each day. He also told me that he had ordered 25 boxes of daffodils from a neighboring company to send to people this year and that I would be one of the recipients.
The daffodils arrived on a Thursday and filled nine large vases generously. They filled my entire kitchen counter. I was working late that night in the quietness of our home. I was particularly delighted when I started to hear the flowers open. Imagine my awe. I cannot remember ever before actually hearing flowers blooming. Our family enjoyed watching the flowers become fully open through the weekend. On Monday, I did what I always have done with the flowers. I took them places where they can offer to others the same delight and promise of a bright new season.
May we all remember to cultivate kindness, for those we meet may be facing a season of struggle.
P.S. My curiosity about the Van Lierops led me to www.farm12.org. If you enjoyed reading this story, you may want to learn more about the history and future of this farm.