Photos & text by guest blogger Kelly Eastman Combs
I’m never surprised when my kids ask me to take them to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I’ve been taking them since they were in a stroller. We’ve picnicked and picked vegetables in the Children’s Garden. We’ve had field trips and day trips. We’ve seen the butterflies and rested on the butterfly benches. We’ve been by the light of day, and seen GardenFest of Lights by night. I’m never surprised when my kids ask me to take them to Lewis Ginter.
But I was very surprised when my 76-year-old dad asked me to take him! My dad, Frank, had never been to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. He never took us as kids because the doors to the Garden didn’t open until after I’d graduated high school. But it turns out that our trip to the Garden was a trip down memory lane.
My dad grew up near the property that is now Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. On his first trip to the Lewis Ginter grounds he was just 3 years old. He doesn’t actual remember that trip, but remembers his parents telling him about his first fishing trip with his dad, Ernest.
Ernest asked Mrs. Mary Garland Smith, who had life-rights to the historic Bloemendaal house on the property, if he could fish on the lake behind her home with his sons, and she agreed. On that first rainy fishing trip, Ernest built a fire and put a tarp up as a make shift shelter. Then he and Frank fished. They continued to fish there often, and Frank vividly remembers his fishing trips from the time he was 5.
Ernest took Frank, and his younger brother, Bobby, fishing as often as he could. (In addition to working full-time, Ernest was the one of the first volunteers of the Lakeside Fire Department.) But as soon as Frank and Bobby were old enough they rode their bikes to go fishing. They’d fish off the bridge that was built over the dam, and they’d play on the rocks below.
Like most boys they got into some mischief sometimes too. They’d sneak over onto the grounds of the golf course behind Lewis Ginter (now the Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club), and shoot squirrels early in the morning. And they’d have squirrels and gravy for dinner that night.
As my sister and I walked the grounds of Lewis Ginter with my dad last week, we saw the lake where he used to fish, my dad recalling his favorite stories. On the walk back, we stopped and rested in the cool library in the Garden’s Education & Library Complex.
“What was your favorite thing about today, Dad?” I asked.
“Just remembering where I used to fish with my dad, and my brother,” he started. Then he smiled and said, “And spending the day with two of my children.” My sister, Erin, and I agreed that we too would enjoy coming back to Lewis Ginter with our children, and remembering our visit with our dad.
You see, every visit to Lewis Ginter is a trip down Memory Lane. Even if your dad never fished here, you are making memories with every visit with your kids. And one day, they may come back with their own children, and tell them of all the adventures they had with their parents at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Kelly Eastman Combs is a life-long Richmond-area resident, writer and speaker. Her dad, Frank Eastman, is also a life-long resident who may be remembered for his All-American football days as quarterback at Hermitage High School, as well as his years of football at Virginia Tech.