Clemmons, NC
United States
Tanglewood Park, Nature Trail Drive AIDS Memorial Garden at Tanglewood Park since 1 December 1997
Memorial garden for AIDS victims endures
Spot at Tanglewood offers place for remembrance and reflection
Sitting on a cool, gray stone bench, James Jones took a swig of water from a large plastic jug and unfolded the newspaper that he had picked up in front of his Jonestown Road home that morning. At his feet was a plastic bag containing two sandwiches — one cheese and one peanut butter — that his wife had made while he shaved that morning. It was before noon and the day was already heating up, but the shade of the tall pecan trees in this seldom-visited corner of Tanglewood Park provided a reprieve. The bench he chose for lunch is one of about half a dozen in the small garden. Pecan trees, some ringed with mulched beds of swamp fern and Lenten rose, provide a canopy over the wooden arbor, bird baths and short, L-shaped brick walkway.

It's not the first time that Jones has sought respite in the cool quiet of Tanglewood's AIDS Memorial Garden. For the last 15 years, Jones has served on and off as an unofficial caretaker. Jones was connected with the then-fledgling garden by the now-defunct HOPE (HIV; Outreach, Programs and Education) group, which connected HIV-positive individuals with services and support. The hard work — planting, mowing, scrubbing bricks — kept him going, Jones said, even in the face of his own health challenges. "It helps give you strength, to go on and do," he said.

There's another group in charge of maintaining the garden these days. The Wells Fargo PRIDE Team Member Network stepped in a few years ago after the previous set of volunteers had dissolved. "They over-mulch it sometimes, but they're trying their best," Jones said. At 79, caring for the memorial garden on his own is too much, but Jones said he still likes to visit.

Some days — like the one recently — he'll bring his lunch and read the paper. He'll usually sweep a little, brushing the leaves from the bricks to make sure visitors can read the names of those who have been lost. "Remembering lost friends," reads one. "The mountains still miss you," says another, dedicated to Jeremy. "In honor of Uncle Jimmy," reads yet another.

A Girl Scouts project
Dedicated in 1998, the garden was created by two Girl Scouts — Erica Brady (now Angert) and Carrie Watson (now Shultz) — as their Gold Award project, similar to the Eagle Scout rank that Boy Scouts earn. Carole Watson, Carrie's mother, said the girls wanted to do something meaningful. They had learned about HIV and AIDS through a Girl Scout program and both had lost family friends to the disease. Carole Watson said that Bob Goff, then the director of Tanglewood, was supportive of the project and suggested a spot just off the Park Administration Building on Nature Trail Drive. "He's the one who picked out the spot for the garden," Carole Watson said. "It was right outside his office. He said it would be perfect, that he could look out and see it."

From the fall of 1997 and into the spring of 1998, Watson said both families spent nearly every Saturday clearing the area and building the garden. "There was nothing, just woods," she said.

Enduring memorial
The girls left for college the fall after the garden was opened and have since gotten married and started lives elsewhere. Their project lives on, though, just as they hoped it would when they started planning it 17 years ago. "We hoped it would be a place of remembrance and reflection that would be permanent," said Shultz, who now lives in Wilmington. "I'm thrilled it's still in good shape." Though off the beaten path, people still find their way to the garden to remember and reflect. Watson said she still receives the occasional order for an engraved brick "for one reason or another: a family member, a friend."

While the landscape surrounding HIV and AIDS in America has changed greatly since the 1990s, the disease still exists. There is still a stigma, still a fear and people still die, said Jesse Duncan, the executive director of Aids Care Service in Winston-Salem. "It's a double-edged sword to have a memorial garden," Duncan said. "We always want to remember those that we lost, and we always want to pay honor to them for the struggle. At the same time, having a memorial garden... makes it feel like it's over."

While the epidemic has changed and people can live long, healthy, fulfilling lives with the right treatment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year in the United States. It's important, Duncan said, for victims and their families to have a place of their own. That sense of ownership — something rare for HIV and AIDS victims — is probably part of the reason the garden has lasted the way it has.

"Back then, anything that was connected with HIV or AIDS, (people) wanted it to fail," Jones said. "That's why I worked so hard. I wanted it to be beautiful, for people that are sick have a place where they can be close to God and nature. "There's more to every little plot of land than you realize. The gardens, they bloom and bring hope to people."

Photo (C) Arika Herron Winston-Salem Journal

13 August 2014
Arika Herron, Winston-Salem, NC