It was a lovely and warm evening in late spring. The scented air of a well-kept herb garden mingled with the neighbour’s roses every time a breeze rolled through the valley. Ms. Smith’s herb garden was legendary. All year round Stella supplied The bakery, the restaurant, and the pharmacy, as well as selling to the people of the valley directly. People would come to a stop in front of her house where the slightest of breezes would bathe you in a lasting scent of thyme, lavender and oh so many of nature’s fragrances.
Stella herself had inherited the herb garden from her grandmother who just a few years ago she died at a ripe old age of one hundred and four. Old Fran, as she was affectionately known, was not only a herb grower, but an accomplished herbalist, quite often the only medical professional in the entire valley. Even the town doctor had been known to consult with Fran, and to this day he used her recipes for salves and infusions when it would serve every bit as well as modern medications.
Stella inherited not only the house and herb garden but was helped out of many hard-bound volumes written by various centuries of women containing generations of knowledge of herbs and naturopathy. Had this lineage of women lived anywhere but the Valley they might have provided morbid entertainment to worked-up crowds wanting to see the local witch burned at the stake. Not here. Not in this valley. This valley above all held life and personal freedom as holy. These women were simply talented herbalists, no-one could conceive of the valley without Stella, Fran, and their ancestors. By some strange providence, no boys were born into this bloodline for going back many centuries.
Stella herself came into this life at midnight of the summer solstice. Her mother, the always frail Angela, died later that same day. Tears of joy and sadness ran together in the Valley that day. Harold Smith, a builder by trade raised his only daughter and was helped by Fran, who had energy you’d expect from a younger woman. Fran’s daughter, however, like so many in the maternal lineage was frail, and with age lost strength in her legs and was exhausted, unable to garden with the energy of her ageing mother. When she married Harold, Fran worried that bearing children would be too much for her daughter. She lived only so long to be able to hold her tiny daughter, kiss her little face hands and feet, before falling into her eternal sleep.
Stella was a bright and energetic child, slight, blond, and full of mischief. Harold had his hands quite full with that one. She could out-climb most of the Valley’s boys her age. It was Fran’s greatest challenge to turn little Stella Into a young lady. By the time Stella was twelve, she struck a bargain with her grandmother. She would be the perfect young lady for all of every Sunday, but during the week she might or might not, no promises.
By the time she finished her studies the Valley school had more children than just one teacher could handle. Stella was thrilled to be able to teach and stay in the Valley. So quite a few years she taught, and became a great teacher. Then, one summer after a bout of what was assured to be the flu or grippe, Stella’s energy waned. By fall it was obvious that running after twenty little children would be too much-Fran, who was getting older, suggested that Stella take over The herbal garden. Stella, though a bit sad at first, grew to be thoroughly happy in her work. Fran meanwhile, could finally enjoy the friendships which the had cultivated over so many years. In the evening Fran would work on her own volume of herbs, potions, gardening and so on. .-
Stella was quite happy gardening, bundling fresh herbs to sell to the baker, grocer and of course the doctor. Unlike running after naughty children this work did not drain her. Years passed and in that timeless manner so typical of all things in the Valley, Stella’s garden grew the same quality of herbs now that Fran had retired. People still came to a full stop in front of the house taking in deep breaths of lavender-scented air. Walking up to the house for tea with Stella had the added treat of walking on the small Stone walkway with fragrant Thyme growing between each store, with each step the tiny crushed leaves surrendered a powerful scent before they rebounded to live on. If that was not grand enough one walked by the wall of scented tea roses the neighbours lovingly tended.
To be met by Stella holding a tray of freshly baked herbal scores, served with a fresh pot of infused mint, well, frankly what could be better? Invitation to tea with Stella, was highly prized. Stella had an ever-growing collection of fine porcelain teapots, brought back from travels made by grateful friends, as well as from Stella’s own travels. Her newly made recipes now were starting her own proud volume next to Fran’s 882 page volume. Fran who had lived a few years past one hundred, quietly passed away in her deck chair under the lemon tree.
Stella herself had reached an age where it was unlikely she would start a family. There had been suitors, but none who could offer her a life better and more peaceful Than the one she already had here. So it seemed she would be the last of the prized herb gardeners. So it would seem.
Then that awful night that a near lifeless Stella was found lying face down, in a patch of borage. Kayli from next door, while tending those stunning tea roses spotted Stella, her pet apricot toy poodle beside her, softly whimpering. Kayli tore over to Stella who was trying to talk, “help me” was the gist of it. The doctor was called. A small crowd had gathered by the gate. Over the next few days everyone awaited results of tests along with Stella.
Anxious, but in good spirits she greeted the doctor, whose rather grim Countenance, did nothing to put anyone at ease. What he said, he said in private, so the very specifics were not then revealed. However, with her permissions, he gave the boiled down version to the small crowd by the gate. Stella would not fully recover. She was unlikely to walk on her own power.
What followed could only happen in this valley, where every breath is sacred, where no-one ever is left to struggle alone. The town carpenter and the mechanic got together and built a most remarkable chair. Lovingly carved to be comfortable, cushions made for her by yet another neighbour, filled with down lovingly strewn by the racing geese and collected into small bales by faeries, who left them just by the door.
The chair had an oil filled suspension, which could with little effort be lowered to where she could tend herbs in beds a local farmer built, carefully replanting each plant by hand. If that was not remarkable enough, Joe, who had twice sailed around the world (each time after Stella turned down his proposal of marriage) brought some small solar panels from one of his travels, and with group ingenuity fitted them into the design along with a power cel, allowing the chair to move silently once charged. Stella’s gardening would easily keep it topped up. The chair could be raised to where she would stand eye to eye, but safe from falling.
The next few months a young distant cousin came to stay with Stella to learn about the herbs. Although Stella in her chair was going strong, it was good to know the long term future of the renowned herb garden and herbery, was in good hands as well.