A Wildflower Running Free

[The following tribute was written to celebrate the life of my beloved sister Lisa Diane Allen Stanley who passed away on Father’s Day, June 19, 2022, at the age of 63 after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. I read this eulogy during her graveside funeral service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Thursday, June 23, 2022.]

My beautiful sister, Lisa Diane Allen Stanley, in a photo taken around 1985.

As those of you who knew my sister can attest, Lisa had a tireless energy for everything she did and everything she believed in. She was a force of nature who never seemed to stop. You may know her as the gardening expert at Stanley’s Greenhouse. Or you may have seen her at Church Street United Methodist Church or Island Home Baptist. You may have gone to high school with her or have known her as a tireless advocate for South Knoxville.

You may have seen her running in the Island Home neighborhood or walking her beloved dog Plum. Or you might have asked her, through her position at Stanley’s, to support your nonprofit organization. Lisa did all these things, and much more.

She loved the music of Tom Petty, and she saw him in concert many times. In between seasons at Stanley’s, Lisa and her husband Rocky loved to drive down to Charleston to visit its historic neighborhoods, gardens, and plantations. When she was younger and had more time, Lisa enjoyed waterskiing and hiking in the mountains. We used to walk or bike through Cades Cove—back when we could go to the Smokies in the late fall, and it was not crowded.

However you knew Lisa, you are welcome here today to help us celebrate the life of my sister, Lisa Diane Allen Stanley. When she was born 63 years ago on Monday, March 23, 1959, she was the second child of our parents Arzelia and Roy Allen. The old English nursery rhyme says, “Monday’s child is fair of face.” And my sister was indeed a lovely baby who became an even more lovely woman.

When we were young, our parents struggled to make a living. Often Daddy was between jobs, and Mama supplemented our family income by keeping children in our home, working as a waitress at our Aunt Helen King’s restaurant, Ye Olde Steak House, and later working at Stanley’s Greenhouse. Somehow Mama always seemed to find ways to help Daddy make ends meet.

Our father Roy Rotha Allen with Lisa (right) and me on vacation in Georgia, August 1965.

Our Daddy was a storyteller. He loved to tell the same stories again and again. Daddy would regale us with tales of how Lisa ran headlong into life, and, as he would phrase it, “Bust her head open,” because Lisa needed stitches in her forehead a few times when she was young. Her most famous collision was with Mama’s cedar chest at the foot of our bed.

Daddy also had a saying for every situation in our lives: “Little things means a lot.” “People are more important than things.” “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” And the one Lisa and I hated the most: “You’ve got to the take the sour with the sweet.”

There was just the two of us, and since we were born a little over a year apart, many people assumed we were twins. We were not, but in those early years we were identical in the things we loved. One of the major joys of our childhood was Daddy’s music wafting through our house on Baker Avenue in South Knoxville. Lisa and I knew all the words to Daddy’s favorite 1950s pop songs and would sing them together at the top of our lungs. We loved to dance to the fast numbers and dream of romance during the slow songs. We loved movie soundtracks such as “The Sound of Music”, and we adored the gospel quartet music that our parents loved.

Lisa (left) and me in the snow near our home, perhaps winter 1963.

We also heard gospel music at church, and we went to church three or four times a week. We were especially close to Mama’s parents, Tom and Jerushia Henderlight. Besides seeing our grandparents at church, each Saturday night we went over to their house. Mama would pin-curl Mamaw’s hair so she could look her best for church on Sunday. Mama was devoted to her parents, and they were a constant force in our lives. Mamaw bought us new shoes for Easter and would slip us Dentyne chewing gum before the pastor’s message to keep us quiet during church. And Papaw could fix anything in our house that needed repair.

Daddy was not very mechanical, it’s true, but he was enormously proud of “his girls” and would take us to movies at the Tennessee Theater or nearby drive-in theaters. In the late ‘60s, Daddy fought to find us a better place to live than the house we grew up in. Due to his diligence, our parents were able to buy a new home on Scarlett Lane within walking distance of this cemetery. Lisa had the pink room; and I had the blue.

Although we moved only a few miles away from Baker Avenue, Lisa had to change elementary schools. So in 1970, Lisa became the new girl in the 5th grade at Galbraith Elementary School. You would think being the new girl would have been a burden for my sister, and maybe it was hard for the first few days. But she really blossomed at her new school and quickly became very popular with her classmates. She had a boyfriend in the sixth grade who, along with his best friend, did us the honor of egging our house on Halloween. We were not impressed.

Lisa in her official cheerleader photo, 1973 or 1974.

We attended South High School—a school that no longer exists. South enrolled students in grades seven through twelve since there were no junior high or middle schools in Knoxville at that time. Although we were born only 15 months from each other, Lisa and I were two years apart in school, so we were elated when she finally joined me at South for the 1971-72 school year.

My sister was a people person. Lisa was voted the most popular girl in her grade every year she was at South High. She was a cheerleader, as well as a mid-distance runner for the girl’s track team. It was a thrill watching her compete in track meets. She was small, but she was fast.

As sisters, Lisa and I surprised our classmates because—even though we were two years apart in school, and siblings do not always get along, we were best friends. Inseparable. We sang in chorus at school and sang duets at church—even when we were too young to join the choir. We were together at football and basketball games, with Lisa leading cheers and me in the stands cheering along. We were “the Allen girls”.

After I graduated in 1975, Lisa decided to graduate a year early in 1976. She got a job, saved some money, bought a car, and fell in love with Rocky Stanley. A year after graduation, on July 1, 1977, at the age of 18, she married Rocky, the youngest child of Charles and Mary Kathryn Stanley who founded Stanley’s Greenhouse. The Stanleys started their greenhouse in 1955, and after only 22 years, it was already the place to buy plants in the Knoxville area. While Rocky worked in the family business at Stanley’s as its head grower, Lisa was a secretary for another family business, Lay Packing Company. As chief grower, Rocky was pivotal in the reputation Stanley’s achieved for having the finest quality plants, and Lisa yearned to work at Stanley’s with him.

In 1985 Lisa and Rocky welcomed their first child, a son, who they named Zachary Sterling Stanley, giving him his father’s middle name: Sterling. And Zach lived up to that name. He was a beautiful boy, and his arrival brought much joy to our family. Zach is a great deal like Lisa with his sensitivity, caring, and warmth.

Ten years after her first child was born, Lisa gave birth to her second, a gorgeous baby girl who Rocky and Lisa named Abigale. Just like her mother, Abby was a force-of-nature child who wanted to be taken seriously on her own terms. Although her brother Zach was 10 years older, she wanted to play with him and his friends. Being Abby, that is exactly what she did.

Lisa (center left) and me with her parents Arzelia and Roy Allen, Christmas 2012.

Throughout Lisa’s time working at Lay Packing Co., followed by UT Medical Center, and then the UT College of Human Ecology, she had always been a devoted gardener and her dream was to work with Rocky in the family business. Our mother had been working at Stanley’s since we were in high school, and eventually Daddy worked there too, so when Lisa joined Stanley’s in the mid 1990s, she worked alongside her parents and most of Rocky’s family.

The family business flourished, and Lisa loved everything about Stanley’s: the customers, the plants, and working with her family. For a few years, Lisa shared gardening advice along with other expert gardeners on a weekly radio program, and she was often called upon when local newspapers and TV stations needed information to accompany their freeze warnings.

As Lisa followed her bliss, the family business was the hub of their lives with Abby checking out customers while standing on a stepstool to reach the cash register, and Zach heading the tree and shrub team.

The business was important, but Lisa’s faith was central to her life. She believed that all things were possible. But she believed that her faith required action, so she worked to make a difference in the lives of others when charitable causes came to Stanley’s seeking support. Nearly always Lisa’s answer was: “Yes.”

Her life was full that it surprised Lisa when her doctors diagnosed her with cancer in 2010, at the too-young age of 51. Seemingly unfazed she made the treatment decisions she needed to make, worked through the cancer treatments, and after surgery, hurried to get back to being Lisa Stanley of Stanley’s Greenhouse once again.

Lisa, dancing with me, and her daughter Abby, Christmas 2013. Photo: Kurt Weiss.

Lisa loved demonstrating the abundant joy to be found in growing things. She worked to ensure that her customers had everything they needed to make their gardens flourish. Lisa found her way in life by doing. She grew plants, trees, and shrubs in her own garden, and then shared her experience with others. Her joy was a shared joy. Her smile reflected in another person’s smile. Her customers took encouragement from her advice, her hugs, her enthusiasm for the possibilities, her passion for the promise of what could be done, and for all the beautiful things that could be grown—the inspiration of natural beauty.

Lisa holding a moth found in her garden on her finger, September 2015. Photo: Kurt Weiss.

When her cancer returned in 2019, she faced it with her usual undaunted spirit. Everything was full speed ahead, let’s get these treatments done, and her faith never faltered. She never gave up.

Last fall Lisa and I talked about the upcoming growing season and her favorite fall flowers: pansies, panolas, and violas. It is easy to see why Lisa loved the viola plant family: they bloom in the fall, and continue to bloom throughout the dark winter months, and get even more beautiful in the spring and early summer.

Pansies are tall and majestic, while violas are smaller and hardier. A panola is a strong, hybrid cross of the two. Lisa planted all three in her fall garden, but she had a special affection for panolas.

Why? Because, as Lisa explained, panolas “stand up like a soldier and bloom”. That is the perfect description of my sister Lisa: She stood up like a soldier and bloomed.

To celebrate the life of my dear sister Lisa today, I leave you with the words of her favorite songwriter and musician, Tom Petty. My dear sister:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have see no other
Who compares with you

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free

Run away, let your heart be your guide
You deserve the deepest of cover
You belong in that home by and by

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your troubles and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free
You belong somewhere you feel free

Thomas Earl “Tom” Petty, written in 1993, recorded in 1994

~ Anna – June 20, 2022

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Blooming, Childhood, Courage, Dance, Family, Freedom, Knoxville, Love, Tribute, Uncategorized, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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