In the late 1990’s I wrote a short story from a vague memory that I had of my father’s last years.  My mom, Helen Skinner’s response when she heard this story was “That is not how it was.”  And she was right.  “The Gardener” was the way I visualized an event that I only remembered by a few facts and a strong feeling.

Burke, Margaret, three oldest girls and me on the steps of their home at Skinner’s Nursery circa 1959

I sent the story to the young man in the story, Burke MacNeill.

He recognized the memory and replied with his version.  In his note to me he wrote:

Burke MacNeill at Skinner’s Nursery

“What I can say in a few words is that he was a very honest person and his passion was plants and until your mother and the five of you happened along, plants were his whole life.  That never varied, even then, but he never seemed unhappy with sharing his passion of plants with the family.

There is one particular memory that occurred, I believe, on May 5/65 that I still have the most vivid image of in my mind.  It is this image that I think you wrote your story about and the one which your mother spoke of.  This I will put to pen for you.  I will call it “The Miracle of the Christmas Rose [Helleborus niger].”


Here is Burke’s story:


(click here for a typed transcript of the above letter)

I believe both Burke and I were struck by the healing power of plants and nature and by the healing power of a connection to your passion.  As Burke wrote at the end of his story, “The most vivid part of this event, to me, was the reaction of seeing the Christmas Rose in bloom.  All his energy returned to his body at that moment.  It was like a miracle only the vision was real!”

Happy Birthday Frank Skinner!