“The earth laughs in flowers” Ralph Waldo Emerson
So does Lisa Wong-Esposito.
It’s easy to walk and be lost in thought. Too easy. Too many thoughts. And so sad when so much of life is missed through the absence of mindfulness. Perhaps there’s an alternate meaning of “absent minded.”
I’ve spoken of missing mindfulness many times when writing about strolling the shore and missing the richness of the sea’s scent, the waves, and the swoop of shorebirds.
But the streets too, in just about any town, can be bring a happiness of light and color.
Maybe we need to seek out more lightness, more happiness, in America’s leaden-gray days.
When we walk our pooch, Scout, we notice the effort so many people put into their gardens, in this crafting of love.
When we see beds of color, arches of petals…
…or paths lined with seasonal touches, we see the hearts of the people who put them there.
…”This is the joy I find each day.” I think they find joy coaxing laughter from the earth. I find it coaxing essays from computer keys. It’s what we do.
But sometimes these presentations are rooted with memories of loved ones now gone.
One recent day Cheryl biked past a Long Beach home whose frontage burst with such love in flowers. She said, “You have to see this!” and showed me some photos. So I biked to the home myself and was agog at the sea of splendor, this splashing of color and leaping dolphins on Long Beach Road. I posted my photos on Facebook and it was quite a hit with our Facebook’s group, I Love Long Beach, NY :https://tinyurl.com/y2nbqyho
I visited the site of Long Beach Rd. and Beech St. again to speak with the owner, Lisa Wong-Esposito.
German Shepherd, Rocky, greeted me through the glass door with a big “grin” seeming to invite me in for a “chat.” Then a much warmer, Lisa opened the door with a genuine smile.
This delightful woman was eager to tell me all about her memorial garden for her late husband, Frank Esposito.
Frank, a Vietnam vet, died of mesothelioma (asbestos cancer) having contracted it as a combat engineer in the Army.
After the Army Frank worked as an electrician for NYC Schools. He went to college at night while he worked in the day. He then became a supervisor of a staff of 300.
Frank believed he was exposed to the asbestos that caused mesothelioma when he did work on an aircraft carrier. Mesothelioma, asbestos cancer, begins its decimation as a person ages, Frank’s manifested itself in 2013, seven months before his 71st birthday. It was very near that birthday when it took his life. Cancer was all through his lungs inside and out. Lisa watched him go from 195 to 125 pounds. It was painful for her to watch him in his chemo ordeal only to lose his life so quickly.
Lisa remembers when they met. She went to Queens college to see an Evita concert and ended up seated next to Frank. They chatted during the intermission then dated. The rest, is as they say—THEIRstory.
How fateful are these intersections of life? Seatmates at a concert, workmates at the office, chance encounters at markets, gyms, bars? What if a different concert seat? A different night? A different life? How fickle, fate. Are we just as pollen in the wind?
Lisa and Frank used to visit the local Queens library often. They read a lot together, bird watched together so many times at Jamaica Bay. They were happy.
In Vietnam Frank was with the Army Combat Engineers. Frank told Lisa about the Aug. 1965 preparation of a beach in “Operation Starlite.” The placing of pallets on the beach was to enable landing craft to put American troops ashore. They worked at night using truck headlights for illumination.
Unknown to the Frank and his Battalion were the 2,500 enemy troops on the mountain behind them, watching his outfit as they worked. The enemy held their fire for the landing soon to come. The troops did come ashore. Forty five Marines died in that landing.
Frank flew the American flag from his home every day.
Frank was alway’s a generous man and when he died he left $50,000 each to Queens Public Library, Catholic Relief Services, and his church, Our Lady of Mercy:https://youtu.be/FOmyjKhPBlc
Lisa retired from her job as waitress at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manhattan and eventually moved to Long Beach. She wanted to show her love for Frank in a very special way. So she asked Carl, the landscaper friend of her home-contractor, to produce the very best floral display in Frank’s honor. The result was this magnificence.
Lisa has a local guy, Jose, do the lawn maintenance and the landscaper, Carl, visits to keep a check on the expensive sculptured topiary, Those sculptured living artworks were trucked from Oregon. Lisa hose waters the garden rather than turn on the sprinklers which wet the passers-by. She wants to avoid that.
Lisa does some of the topiary trimming herself and some weeding. She thinks of Frank often as she works at it. She laughed when she told me about doing the tedious work. She said, “It’s good for the soul.” Lisa has an honest laughter. It exemplified the effervescence, the delight, about her that I spoke of earlier. You can’t help but like this human being.
Lisa told me about her adoption of her dog, Rocky who greeted me. She rescued him in May. The previous owners had him as a puppy, but he barked too much for them so they kept him crated. She recalled the German Shepherd she had in Hong Kong as a child. It broke her heart when she had to give him away when her family moved to America. She said having Rocky now completes the circle for her.
She said Rocky does have issues from being caged but he’s coming around now. She said, “It’s more meaningful to me to save and adopt a dog.” She thinks more people should do so. I commiserated with Lisa in my own experience. I told her how Cheryl and I rescued Scout who had been caged as a litter producer for four years.
She and Cheryl both cook and create their own dog food out of chicken or beef. Lisa enjoys cooking for Rocky and walking him. She said, “He’s like my son.” She also likes to spend time watching the birds in her garden.
Lisa said, “Losing someone is never easy,” but she said when the time comes that you only think of the good things, that’s the time when you know you’re healing. It took her five years to get to that point, she said.
We walked around her garden and she pointed out different topiary and the sea of plants. Suddenly we heard a repeated beeping of a car horn. We turned to see a car stopped at the light with the lady behind the wheel, waving, calling out, and giving a thumbs up. Long Beachers are just crazy about this sea of love. Yes, people seek out color in these leaden days. They seek out joy, laughter.
Lisa’s advice: “Love the people you are with whether it’s a husband, wife, mother, whoever, because you never know. And quit when you can retire. Do it. It doesn’t cost too much to live in retirement.” She said people wait too long for more money. She said, “Enjoy life, don’t wait and get sick. Live life to its fullest.”
As my visit came to a close Lisa told me she used a big part of her early retirement incentive to pay for this dedicated garden. She said it cost $60,000, that the eight topiary plants cost $3,500 each, the electrical work, $12,000. I asked if it was okay to include this in my blog post. She said sure. She said, “I’m not into fancy cars or fancy clothing.” She said, “This makes me happy.”
Actually this floral celebration of Frank Esposito is also a gift to the residents of Long Beach. Would we rather Lisa spent $60,000 on another Lexus for us to ignore on our Long Beach streets?
So—thank you, Lisa. I’m sure I stand for all of Long Beach, and America too, as I salute you and Frank Esposito. May you know peace with your new dog, Rocky. And may you smile with good memories as you tend for Frank—this sea of love.