Our volunteer jobs at Longwood Gardens are simply to greet, answer questions, and do anything we can to improve the visitor’s experience. This may sound trivial, but it is surprisingly rewarding because at almost every shift I can make someone’s visit a day they will never forget.
I struck up a conversation with a visitor from New York in front of a display on the early Pennsylvania botanists in a room of the Peirce-du Pont House. He was excited about Philadelphia’s John Bartram (born in Darby) who, he told me, discovered a tree growing in Georgia that his son, also a botanist, later named “Franklinia,” or commonly, the Franklin tree, after the family friend, Benjamin Franklin. He went on to tell me he was trying to grow one on a small farm he owned in Vermont, his theory that it was left in Georgia by the retreating ice cap at the end of the last ice age, and his hoped it would do well in the north. When he took a breath, I told him we had one growing right in front of the house where we were standing.
“Really!” he exclaimed. “Where’s the front? How do I get out?” He was very excited.
“I’ll show you,” I replied. “Follow me.”
When he saw the tree, he was ecstatic, running up to it, backing off, then running around it. “Magnificent! This is magnificent!” while his wife shook her head in the background. It is not an imposing tree, especially in winter, and without me, he would have never noticed it. I, in return, caught some of his enthusiasm and would consider growing one myself if it were not already there at Longwood.
One night during the Christmas displays, two rather dower elderly ladies asked me if there was anything more to see. Everything I mentioned, they had already seen. They did not look happy, or, perhaps “animated” is a better word. They had just come from a ten-minute video on Pierre du Pont. “His wife was pretty old when they married, wasn’t she?” they asked, changing the subject.
“Well, yes, but she was a local Scranton girl and they had a happy marriage.”
Their eyes widened. “A Scranton girl? A Scranton girl! We’re Scranton girls!”
I pointed to a nearby poster that confirmed this, and they read it in detail, all the while exclaiming, “Oh, my. Oh, my.” They left chattering away to each other, as animated as teenagers.