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Here & Now

May. Mother’s day. Is it just me, or do all women who have raised children get horror-movie flashbacks of their motherly sins this time each year? If I chanced to do anything right, it is absolutely because I was trying to emulate my mother, who truly was a saint. Sometimes I’ve fallen short. OK, many times. OK, way, way short—just ask my kids. "Scarred for life" was a common term around our house during the teen years. I’ve lost count of all the incidents and the number of times my son, Chris, stomped to the phone book to look up the Child Abuse Hotline. I confess: I can see where Sarah could have been taken a bit off guard when I breezed into her classroom with refreshments for the fifth grade Caribbean party wearing a sarong over my bathing suit and a basket of fruit on my head, Carmen Miranda-style. In my own defense, it was a very demure bathing suit. It was unfortunate that my watch was a bit fast and I popped in singing the banana boat song during a math exercise.

I also might vaguely remember removing all the Thin Mints from her dad’s order of Girl Scout cookies and replacing them with rocks before carefully resealing the box and returning it to the freezer. It wasn’t malicious, honestly: I just really needed those Thin Mints. However, I still maintain that I’m falsely accused in the alleged Cheerios Incident, in which Sarah supposedly was grounded for dropping a single Cheerio on the kitchen floor. What next? "NO WIRE HANGERS, EVER?" Mothers of a certain age will know what I’m talking about. Others can Google Mommie Dearest.

If May weren’t emotional enough, here comes Memorial Day. Among its most poignant events is the service at the Naples Pier organized by Pax Christi (the Catholic peace movement), Veterans for Peace and other organizations, memorializing our fallen soldiers in Iraq. Thousands of white crosses line the beach, each one with the name of a man or woman who has died since the war began. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the number had surpassed 4,000 as of press time. The scene, against the backdrop of tranquil blue Gulf waters, is almost unbearable.

Have you seen the recently unveiled Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the foot of the Midpoint Bridge in Fort Myers? The three beautiful seven-foot-by-seven-foot black granite panels were engraved by Sanibel Islander Lucas Century, who also engraved the big wall in Washington, D.C. They display the names of all 76 Southwest Florida veterans who died in that war.

In Cape Coral’s Eco Park, a new memorial stands near the Iwo Jima monument. This one honors the oft-forgotten veterans of the Korean War. You won’t find many living veterans visiting these monuments this Memorial Day. They’ll be honoring a long tradition, serving as color guard at services in local cemeteries.

The most dramatic memorial is yet to come. Ground was broken recently for the Freedom Memorial, to rise at the corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway in Naples. It will pay tribute to all members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives for this country, as well as the law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The memorial, designed by Gerald A. Ladue, will be a massive wavy American flag made of bricks, in a park setting with reflecting pools, pathways and benches. You can buy a four-inch-by-eight-inch brick in the flag for $100 or an eight-inch square brick for $300. For details call (239) 254-3169.

Ever notice how everything beyond Port Charlotte is, geographically speaking, "Up North"? The first two categories of my homeowners’ association phone directory—I’m not kidding—are Address and North Phone, followed by Naples Phone. It doesn’t matter that I’m headed for a visit to my birthplace of Savannah, Ga., which is drenched in buttery grits and reeking with magnolia perfume; I’m officially going "Up North." I used to protest, but I’ve been here too long, and the bad habit has infiltrated my vocabulary. Anyway, it’s getting about that time when the most common greeting around town is, "Hey, when are you headed Up North?"

So the folks at the Palm Cottage have one for you: "What will you do with your orchids when you head Up North?" You see, ever since Florida master gardener Bob Printz and his volunteers cleared the Palm Cottage shade garden and uncloaked its amazing 40-foot tall, eight-foot diameter ficus (also called banyan) tree that escaped the wrath of Hurricane Wilma, she’s been looking a bit naked. Printz’s plan is to adorn her with orchids made homeless by the annual trek Up North, creating what will surely be one of the prettiest garden scenes in Old Naples. Just drop by with your treasures, or call (239) 261-8164 to make an appointment for an official orchid hanging with the master gardener.

Now, please do not call me with erudite definitions of "banyan" and "ficus," and all the Latin names attached thereto. Down Here, unless we’re arborists and are intensely passionate about the minute differences between these close relatives, those gargantuan trees with the exotic aerial prop roots that can take over a whole yard are banyans. And ficus. Whatever. We treasure every one, because, as exotics, the planting of new ones is prohibited. Back in pre-air conditioning days, whole Sunday school classes were conducted in their shade. Many Southwest Florida weddings have been performed in their shelter, and generations of family portraits have been taken among their gnarly roots.

That’s not as impressive, maybe, as the formation of the New York Stock Exchange in the shade of that famous Wall Street buttonwood tree, or the sacred bodhi tree of Buddha (which is, in fact, a banyan/ficus/whatever), but they’re a unique and spectacular element of our landscape here.

Here’s to May … to our mothers, our veterans, our heroes and our banyan trees. Celebrate by donating an orchid to Palm Cottage. Have a wonderful trip Up North. Savor every moment, and come back as soon as you can. We miss you already.

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