Madalene Hill passed away yesterday at the early age of 95. "Early" because she seemed immortal to me and because I don't know what we'll do without her. "Early" because she always had more energy than anyone else in the room. "Early" because I'm not ready to let her go.
My husband says that when I mention Madalene in my writing, I always say her name as though everyone on the planet automatically knows who I'm talking about - like "God" or "Elvis". And I always answer that they do. Anyone who knows much about herbs does, and they're who I'm really talking to now.
Do you remember the exact day you first discovered a passion for something? Something you thought you could make your life's work? I do. It was in a cooking class being taught by Madalene and her daughter, Gwen, in Houston in the early 70's. Although already working in restaurants, I hadn't really decided what to be when I grew up. That night Madalene said something like "Herbs are the thin thread that links you to your ancestors no matter what part of the world they came from." For someone looking for connections, family, and my place in the world, those were powerful words. A lot of firsts in my life occurred in her presence, a lot of lightbulbs went off. And after all of these years, it's just too hard to imagine her gone.
There's one memory I'd like to share. I was the general manager of Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland, Texas, working on opening the new one in Houston. If you don't know about the original Farm in Cleveland, it was a true destination location. People would drive the two hours or more from Houston and other cities to this place out in the piney woods of East Texas, down a two lane country road with no streetlights, to the middle of absolute nowhere. A turn onto a dirt drive would land you by an enormous greenhouse where a prix fixe dinner centered around culinary herbs was served on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This particular Friday evening in 1983 seemed like the others. A "little weather" seemed to be blowing in, but the staff was in the kitchen finishing the meal preparation as Madalene greeted arriving guests. One arrived at the main entrance to the greenhouse in a wheelchair, about the time a tornado also made a surprise appearance. With Madalene holding onto the guest with one hand and holding firm to the wooden doorframe with the other, they rode out the tornado right there in the door. The wreckage of the greenhouse was strewn about them, but there they were. You can see why I might think of her as indestructible. To give you an idea of the devastation that night, it took several hours to clear an exit back to the road, and several more before we could even think of leaving. Friends of the Farm returned the next day to do what we could, but it was a crippling blow.
Years ago I lost another friend too early - Warren Skaaren. When he died, I eventually realized that all we can do to get through the loss and to honor them is try to cultivate in our selves more of the traits we loved in them. With Warren, it was humility and a generosity of spirit. With Madalene, I don't know where to start.
This post started with Ophelia's line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There rosemary, that's for remembrance..." It continues "pray, love, remember..."