Thoughts From Red Sunflower Farm:

Curious Questions from Observing the Everyday


Our Willingness to Give and Receive Generational Gifts


On a recent trip to Hocking Hills with my husband, Barry, we stumbled upon a “hearts bursting with love” plant. An appropriate name, my heart overflowed as memories of my late Aunt Hickie flooded back to me.

She was, and remains, one of the most influential and inspiring women in my life. Hickie’s given me many gifts over the years, one of which is my love of nature and this plant in particular.

Also known as the strawberry bush, the hearts bursting with love plant boasts bold pops of red berries (not to be nibbled) for a few short months of the year. It was a plant that mesmerized early European explorers and was one of the first native plants that European botanists brought back to their native continent.

The bright red berries are what I remember Aunt Hickie pointing out to me during my many visits to her home in Alabama. As a gay woman in the 60s, she shattered a lot of preconceptions for me about what life as an adult woman could be.

She was a homeowner (after numerous failed attempts to get a loan, she finally convinced a male banker to cosign with her!), a teacher at an all-girls college, and she was a Ph.D.

While many of the women who raised me played bridge and prepared their homes for their families, Aunt Hickie collaborated with architects to design her own home and spent her days fly-fishing and rock hunting.

She always had an innate connection with Mother Nature. Growing up, she’d take us rock hunting in the woods. Searching for rubies, I’d run up to Aunt Hickie with a treasure I was sure would be of value. But, instead, it would reveal itself to be what she called a “maybe ruby.” Meanwhile, Hickie would plop down on the path to rest, and the first rock she touched would be an actual gemstone.

She knew the most interesting people, too. I remember visiting her at her lake house in the Carolinas (yes, she also owned a lake house) and meeting a minister friend of hers. He was blind, but he was so familiar with the hiking paths that he could turn and name specific species of plants as we walked.

Visiting Aunt Hickie felt like living in a fairyland.

She was a rockstar of the highest order.

Just as Aunt Hickie had a magnetic pull to the earth, she also had a keen intuition for finance. When her nieces and nephews graduated high school, she gifted each of us with $100 of mutual funds, telling us to hold onto the stock and buy more when possible.

I knew to listen to Aunt Hickie. And while I was a broke young adult, whenever I managed to set aside $25 (the minimum at the time), I’d buy more of the Pioneer stock.

I learned after Aunt Hickie died that I was the only one of us who held onto the stock. Everyone else had cashed it in almost immediately. So when she passed, my $100 had grown to $70,000.

For a gift to be given, the recipient must also be willing to receive.

I took in Aunt Hickie’s graduation gift and heard her advice. I followed it. I was willing to receive. As a result, her gift grew beyond the wildest dreams of an 18-year-old.

But shares weren’t the only thing Aunt Hickie gave me:

my love of nature, my fly-fishing hobby, and my confidence to forge ahead and build a career for myself (despite my mother’s disapproval). I like to think I’ve inherited a bit of her rockstar streak.

Aunt Hickie gave me more than I can ever fully describe. So now I often find myself wondering what gifts I’ll give to my family.

Certainly, Hickie’s rockstarish-ness is apparent in my daughter, Sarah Grace.

And I see her love for nature in my grandbabies as they play the day away on my farm, where we also have a hearts bursting with love plant growing as tribute to Hickie.

I tie a silver string around the branches in the winter so that it isn’t accidentally cut down when clearing out the neighboring honeysuckle. It reminds me of all that Aunt Hickie gave our family: the generational gifts that I’ve received from her and the generational gifts that I hope to pass along.


I’ll leave you with these curious questions: 

What gifts have you received from loved ones of generations past? How have the people before you shaped you? How are you giving to the next generation and beyond? 

What gifts are being presented to you? And are you open to genuinely receiving them?