VOLUNTEERS HELP MAKE A DREAM COME TRUE
By Joanne Winer
Over the past 8 years since the death of our daughter Celia, my husband and I are often asked what she was like, and how Celia’s Rainbow Gardens came to be. Those people who live here and knew her have their own memories of Celia. We love to hear their stories and cherish their remembrances of her. As parents, we believe that all children are special gifts from God, and each and every child should not be taken for granted, because you never know what can happen when you least expect it. Any parent who has lost a child unexpectedly can understand this.
Celia was a miracle baby. Having tried to have a child for many years and being told it would never happen, I had given up trying and made peace with it. Then, out of the clear blue, I found myself pregnant at 37 years old. It was quite a shock for both of us. I found out I was pregnant on Christmas Eve 1985, and before I had even had a chance to get into maternity clothes, Celia decided to make her entry on Good Friday, March 28, 1986.1 was only 23¼ weeks pregnant, so when she was born, the doctors said she would not make it. She came into this world weighing only 670 grams or 1 ¼ pounds, and was Canada’s smallest surviving baby in both weight and gestation at that time.
Celia was only 12” long, and her head was the size of a lemon. She had no fat tissue, and looked like a frog when they held her up. My wedding ring would go right past her hand and up to her elbow, and Cabbage Patch doll clothes were too big for her. A facecloth cut into 4 pieces made her diapers. She went down to less than a pound at one time, and the doctors didn’t hold out much hope, but she fooled everyone and not only lived, but thrived after spending 4 months in an incubator. We didn’t even get to hold her until Mother’s day in May. It was a scary experience for us. She was only 5 pounds when she came home, and had to stay on a monitor for a year.
When she was 5 years old, after traveling across Canada and the U.S. while Paul worked, we decided to settle in Quartzsite because the new school was opening up, and we loved the weather here. Celia was susceptible to colds, and we came here from the east coast for her health.
Celia loved school, and she loved her teachers and classmates. She was an A student and had an insatiable desire to learn anything she could. She got me involved in PTA, and wanted to start a kid’s PTA to get more involvement between the parents and the kids at school. She wanted to be a Brownie, so we started a Girl Scout troop here. She helped me cook for the homeless dinners at Christmas. She loved to bake cookies for her dad.
Because we had a bookstore, she had an unlimited supply of reading material, and she often sat for hours looking through the books. Once she learned to read, there was no stopping her interest. She read her Children’s Bible cover to cover twice. She had a deep faith in God and Jesus, and attended Sunday school with her friends.
Celia was a normal child—she loved dinosaurs and knew all the names. She loved unicorns and collected them because I did. She spent a lot of time drawing pictures, especially of rainbows and flowers, and her favorite was “us in a heart”, a rendition of Paul, myself, and her inside a heart, usually with the dog in it too. Her favorite colors were pink and purple. After she died, we started Celia’s Rainbow Gardens, and we took her drawings and made greeting cards to raise money for the Gardens.
Music was a big part of Celia’s life, and she loved to dance and sing. She could amuse herself for hours playing with her friends or by herself She spent a lot of time sifting out back of our trailer just watching the sunset with her dog Sammy by her side. She loved nature, and we spent countless hours walking in the desert. She knew all the names of the trees and flowers, and would sit quietly hoping a rabbit or quail would come and take a treat from her hand. They never did, but she kept trying. When a sick pigeon died near the store, she insisted that we have a funeral, because she felt all God’s creatures deserved to have someone mourn them. She believed that there was a heaven for animals too, and when my dog died, she used to look for the brightest start and pray for her.
Celia was a born optimist, who always saw the good in people and places. She looked at things as being half full instead of half empty, with a wisdom that put me to shame sometimes. People used to tell me that she had an “old soul” because she was so mature for her age. She always forgave anyone who hurt her, saying that they just didn’t know any better. One of the things that would bring tears to her beautiful bro eyes was if she did or said anything to hurt me. She asked me once what would be the thing that would hurt me the most, and I told her if she ever lied to me I would be hurt, and she promised me that she never would. I don’t believe that she ever did.
When we walked in the desert, I only looked at the surface of the landscape, while she looked right into it—she noticed all the smallest flowers, the ants, lizards and other things that I never did until she pointed them out to me. We used to sit and watch the ants moving in lines from one anthill to another all thy. It is amazing what you can see and learn if you look at things through the eyes of a child. It is a humbling experience.
It was quite a learning experience for us as parents to have been blessed with a child like her, and we thank God every day for giving us the privilege of having her, even for so short a time. She constantly amazed us with her sensitivity and capacity for love. She loved elderly people, kids (especially the loners) and adults. She seemed to be able to talk to any age group. She was filled with questions all the time, and never let up until you answered them truthfully. She wanted to know everything there was to know.
Sometimes it would seem like she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders—she cared so very much for the environment, needy children all over the world, and how to bring peace to everyone in the world. She had a list of 52 things that she wanted to be when she grew up, and intended to do as much with her life as she could.
Celia was a loving, caring and happy child who taught us many lessons in her short time here on earth. Her two favorite sayings were “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything”, and “Everyone can make a difference”. The Gardens project and the wonderful people who have made it into what it is have proven her right.
Celia was not a perfect child-there is no such thing. She had her bad moments too. But she brought so much love into our lives that our good memories far outweigh the bad. She loved her family unconditionally, and made our lives so much richer for her having been part of them.
Celia had many adventures in her lifetime with all the traveling we did, and met many types of people over the years, but she loved Quartzsite the best. This was her home, and she loved being here more than anywhere else. We never realized just how wonderful this town really was until she died.
Celia was 8 l/2 years old when she got a viral infection that hit her heart, and she died in my arms. It was a devastating time for us, and the support we got from the community was overwhelming. Over 200 people attended her memorial service, and some people took up a collection to help us with expenses. No wonder she loved it here. We just didn’t see Quartzsite through her eyes until then.
After her death on October 25, 1995, we needed to find a way to give back to the community some of the love they had shown us. We got permission from the town council to plant a botanical garden in her memory in the town park in October of 1996, a year after her death. What started out as a small nature trail has grown over the past 6 years into a mosaic of beauty, like a patchwork quilt made by many loving hands and hearts.
Many groups have become involved in making the Gardens grow, and several RV parks have also adopted areas to landscape. Individuals and families have done many areas in their own special way. I think of the work as my grief therapy, and so do many others who are involved.
There is so much to see in the Gardens that it has amazed some people who have never seen it before. Those who have been there notice the changes every time they come back. It has become a labor of love for those of us who work there, and a tribute to everyone who is remembered. There is much more work to be done, and volunteers are always needed. When finished, this will be the largest, if not only, free botanical gardens in the state. It is one of the biggest volunteer projects in the area, and we love and appreciate everyone who has taken this project to their hearts.
We are working together to make a child’s dream of a better place come true, and I know Celia would be very proud of every one of us. She would have loved to help in such a project herself. We cannot thank our many volunteer “Garden Angels” enough for everything they have done. We could not have done it without them.
For more information about Celia’s Rainbow Gardens, to volunteer, place a tree or bench, etc in someone’s memory, or make a donation, please call Joanne at 927-6551. You can also visit the Reader’s Oasis Bookstore, and we will be happy to help you.
We hope you will visit the Gardens and see what can be accomplished when we all work together. Your support is greatly appreciated, and we encourage you to write us a note with your comments. Our address is P.O. Box 1297, Quartzsite, Az. 85346.