On a recent lovely Wednesday morning, a group of ladies planted themselves on the Salem Museum steps for a photo.
Some passersby waved and beeped horns at the retro sight: Hats and white gloves?!
Members of Salem Garden Club were celebrating a pretty remarkable anniversary for a local club: 85 years. It seemed to call for a genteel, old-fashioned scene in the excellent Museum meeting-room: Linen-laden tables-for-four, flowers, the must-have cake — and punch served in proper glassware.
Completing the flashback were 40-odd (some of us odder than others) members arrayed in finery from those earlier days. At last, a reason to don stuff from mothers’ and grandmothers’ closets! Those hats! Pearls dripping over proper necklines! And glass-eyed mink scarves, biting their own tails (a disturbing yet fascinating sight to kids, say, in church back-in-the-day)….
A coupla tie-dyed, sandal-wearin’ hippie-chicks mixed in, too: A further reminder of how SGC has rolled through many a changin’ time since 1927.
President Judy Goodwin turned the meeting over to Parliamentarian Judy Garst — a three-term, “perennial” president — who walked members through a garden of SGC history.
It’s part of Salem’s history too, noted Historian Jane Hough, a member since 1953. Her aunt Amelia Robertson and grandmother Carolina Harveycutter were charter members (the latter painted columbines decorating each handbook). The minutes give evidence of hard times, said Jane: The Depression and World War II. (Salem Museum should welcome the club’s history, several agreed.)
“We started with a civic goal,” Judy Garst stated. Charter members wanted to clean up around the jail and Main Street. So, she said with a smile, they used the power available at the time: Their husbands, “the town’s movers and shakers.”
Another big project: Planting trees and shrubs at Salem High Schools (now City Hall and Andrew Lewis Middle School, where some mighty oaks endure).
For decades members have swapped white gloves for gardening gloves: Buying, planting and maintaining trees, shrubs, annuals and / or perennials at the public library and City Hall. They even tended to projects at East Hill Cemetery, the Roanoke Valley Horse Show and McVitty House — and decorated Salem’s big ol’ Christmas tree in the Farmers’ Market (“I rode the cherry-picker!” laughed Judy Garst).
Now the club’s mitts stay busy with Salem Museum’s extensive landscaping. Members are also devoted to helping Habitat for Humanity houses, thanks especially to Carol Buriak’s commitment and organizational skills. They’ve also turned shovels for Greenways.
So even on this day of ladylike celebration, beneath those white gloves were some roughed-up gardening hands — unafraid to dig down to make Salem a better place.