by Henry Lane Hull
Eons ago, when I moved home after “internal exile” away from the Northern Neck, I was speaking with my friend, W. R. Keyser, about getting order out of the chaos I had brought with me. He immediately said, “Call Iris; she’ll get it straight for you.”
Iris Garrison is his sister, whom I had known for many years and gone to church with her, but in that situation I had not thought of her. I called Iris, told her I was expecting company and we set the day, or I should say “days,” for undertaking the project.
Iris inherited the Keyser “capability gene” in full force. As with Julius Caesar’s experience in Gaul, Iris came, Iris saw, and Iris conquered. In what seemed no time she brought order out of chaos and the company came, never knowing the rush through which we had passed getting ready for their arrival. I realized those many years ago that Iris was a person fully able to address any situation with a clear-cut sense of direction.
Iris and her eight brothers and sisters grew up on a delightful farm in Mila, which for new arrivals is a satellite city of Wicomico Church. There her father grew a legendary garden, specializing in delicious cantaloupes, the secret of which he said was growing them on a slope where they could get the necessary moisture, but not sit in soil that was too wet. He raised his large family by growing crops and food, and working on the water.
After her father’s untimely death in 1982, Iris, her own four daughters by then grown, devoted herself to the in-home care of her mother. The two of them enjoyed a wonderful quality of life together, popping around in Iris’s pickup and entertaining at home each year on Mrs. Keyser’s birthday. Mrs. Keyser had been born a short distance down the road on July 19, 1909, in “Wicomico View” the same night as Sam Conley, the longtime proprietor of the market in Wicomico Church. Both her family, the Sissons and the Conleys were living there at the time.
After her marriage, she and her husband moved to the home that for many always will be identified as the Keyser home place, set on the crest of the famous cantaloupe slope, making an idyllic traditional farmhouse setting, reminiscent of a Currier and Ives print. Iris’s father had planted an avenue of white pines along the curving road leading up to the home and the interior matched the charm of the exterior.
During her father’s life, her parents shared the property with his pet Nubian goat, Diamond, a truly delightful animal, who greeted each of the cantaloupe customers as if he or she was coming for no other reason than to see Diamond. Some dogs think they are people, but Diamond thought she was a dog, expecting to be petted and addressed.
Another Keyser gene that Iris has inherited from her father is the inability for hair to turn gray. In all the decades I have known her, she has yet to get her first silver strand.
Her youthful appearance accompanies her profound level of wisdom. Iris is a deep thinker and prescient observer of the passing current, always ready with witty and telling comments on what is happening around her.
This coming Tuesday, according to Iris’s daughter, Nora, Iris will become an octogenarian. Nora is a very dependable person and I am taking her at her word, although visually I am inclined to drift towards skepticism. Iris is one of the people who make the Northern Neck the delightful place it is to live. She is ever cheerful, contributing in her own way to enriching the lives of all who know her.
Happy Birthday, Iris, even if Nora has exaggerated your age! Ad multos annos!