remembrance of love

A Sea Of Love for a Vietnam Vet

“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.

Often it’s the expression of: “This is what I do,” or…

…”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.

Frank Esposito flew the flag every day

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.

Rocky

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.

Be well,

Leebythesea

27 replies »

  1. So glad your knowing the history of the Sea of Love garden makes you love it more. Yes Rocky is a very cool partner for Lisa, he helps her heal. Thank you for your response, Tricia.
    Be well,
    Lee

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  2. Loved knowing the history of the magnificent beauty of LIsa s gardens I go by there each day just to admire them
    thank you for sharing ROcky very cool story too

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  3. If there ever was a stop and smell the roses moment, this is it. Lived in Long Beach for 43 years and probably passed
    Their home countless times, but never took notice. I’ve always said everyone has a story…this certainly qualifies. I will now make time to admire this expression of love. Thank you for this well needed pause.

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  4. I actually think we have many Lisa’s in our town and across America. We just don’t get to see them exposed to often. We only hear of people lives when they get in trouble, get arrested, become corrupt. That’s what sells in media. I try to focus on the good of people I come across. And there is plenty of it. People are basically good.
    I’ve read that we need to see the good in people because they see that we see it, and it brings out that good.
    Thank you, Rich for your comment.
    You are a good man.
    Be well,
    Lee

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  5. We walk our dog by that house almost every day when not in Florida and always said this person must be in the landscaping business it was so beautiful . It was a very touching story and there should be more people like Lisa on this planet ( not saying we should all go spend that on plants ) but it was the thought process . I am proud to have u as a Long Beach neighbor

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  6. Alexis,
    Wow! I feel your heart in your words. I’m sure Lisa does as well. Very well said. Yes, there is much to be proud of in this community. And Lisa’s effort exemplifies it. Thanks again.
    Be well,
    Lee

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  7. I pass by this house everday, sometimes multiple times in a day. It brings me so much joy and happiness. Now knowing the story behind the beautiful garden, makes my heart burst.

    Thank you for taking the time to talk to Lisa and write about her beautiful story.

    You both make me proud to live in this amazing community!

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  8. Thank you Lisa and thank you for honoring Frank for his service to our country and the love you had for each other in this way.

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  9. I pass this beautiful garden frequently and stop to tell the gardener (Lisa, I now read) how magnificent it is.
    I often take my grandkids by to admire.
    The story is as lovely as the garden.
    Thank You Lisa.

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  10. I knew there had to be a wonderful story behind this beautiful garden! It makes me smile every time I drive past it!

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  11. Hi Gloria,
    That’s great that you and your husband had the same experience as Cheryl and me. It says a lot about the impact that masterpiece has on passers-by. Money well spent. And a gift to Long Beach too.
    Be well,
    Lee

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  12. Hey, Rod, so glad you liked the post. I enjoyed putting it together. Lisa is a wonderful gal. No, I never found out what Combat Engineer Bn Frank was in. Maybe Lisa can enlighten us here, if she’s sees it, if she recalls.
    Be well, Bro,

    Lee

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  13. Loved this story l saw this garden about a month ago and like your wife l told my husband about the spectacular garden, took him to see it the same day. Your story was wonderful each time l pass from now on l will think of Frank Esposito and his beautiful wife. Like the beautiful flowers you have brought Frank alive again for the people of Long Beach.

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  14. That was fantastic! It was a beautiful tribute to both her and her husband. I kept going back over the photos admiring both the flowers and Lisa. The interior of Lisa’s home, where rocky rested, appeared to be modest. And, Like Lisa, was unpretentious.

    Lee, did you learn if Lisa’s husband was in the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion? !965, when he was in Vietnam, is when had just finished my military service. That was April 26,1965.

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  15. Lee, what a beautiful commentary. Thank you. You made my day. We find things when we are supposed to. I found several here, including the part of healing in 5 years.
    Blessings on you.

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