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Green Acre #353: Tropical Expectations

This corner of my tropical garden in Washington DC has, among other things, white and orange bird of paradise (not that they flower), clivia, elephant ears, ferns, palms and a kumquat. All are wintered over in a little greenhouse. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I’M BACK FROM Florida again. A couple of days ago I was drinking my coffee and watching the ocean from sister Jeanie’s front terrace in Juno Beach. Now I’m eating candy corn and drinking a pleasant white zinfandel at my desk. 

That was our third, maybe fourth trip south since early spring. The visits run together; it feels there’s scarcely a breath between them. Some people in the condo think we now live there. I look it. I’m baked a nice Corinthian leather brown. May I say, it’s remarkable how a tan covers a multitude of sins, though sadly, as one pales, those sins return to view with a vengeance. 

Sister has been ailing from a list of non-Covid-related, though similarly hair-raising, ills. In and out of the hospital and dreadful rehab joints. Our trips have been missions of mercy, with a side of surf.   

You could hardly pick a more gorgeous spot to be caretaking—or recovering. This condo is so prime that when she first went into the hospital she was sent a fawning letter by a unit owner with a lesser location and total lack of tact, essentially saying . . . now that you’re on your way out, maybe you’d be interested in selling it to us? “We would love your unit, would live in it until we were no longer able to, and then intend to relinquish it to our children to enjoy in perpetuity. . . . ” 

Vulture. Buzz off. 

From this perch on the eighth floor, it’s as if you’re on a cruise ship, the water is that close. At ground level, the gardens are covered with tropical plants that grow to vast size with no particular effort, unlike the puny specimens I coddle at home in a sorry attempt to replicate the tropics. Here, a white bird of paradise is the size of a 20-year-old oak, hibiscus smother branches. It’s like walking through a Gauguin. 

How could anyone feel deprived in such a scene, and yet . . . I’ll try.

Just before we left I bought spring bulbs for my garden, and here I am again, staring at tall palms, squat palms, frilly palms and naked coconut palms, a sight I once swore I could never get tired of—the sight I usually daydream about when I’m sitting at my desk. I found myself longing for sweaters, a fire, my puffy down quilt, a hot bath after a walk in a nice cold drizzle. Pumpkins look so ridiculous here. Irish coffee? Just . . . no. 

By the way, I was once told that around here the coconuts are removed from the trees so they don’t bash tender skulls passing beneath them on the curving walkway to the pool and the beach. That’s an aside.

I realize I’m just not cut out to be a jet-setter. (Do people still say that? Discuss.) 

I don’t enjoy waking at 4am, needing to pee and having to recall where the bathroom is—though I’ve now stashed shampoos and creams in the guest bath, warm-weather clothes in the closet, and my email opens at a stroke on sister’s computer, expecting I’ll be back soon. 

Like a bush-league Angelina, I can sling a bag over my shoulder and hit the airport.

There are . . . compensations. The beach is practically empty, even on weekends. The water is clear and warm and, at times, as still as a bath. When it’s too rough there’s the pool.

The food everywhere is fantastic. A neighborhood Italian restaurant that puts most in DC to shame with translucent pasta and divine sauces. A steak house in Palm Beach that, thankfully, had sidewalk seating; inside, the place was packed. It’s a prime spot for car-watching: Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, Jags. The kid tasked with parking them was having a blast. We paid $70 for the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu (which Total Wine sells for $17—we checked the Internet). The steaks were great.  

On the other hand, this being Florida, we were surrounded by nutcases in markets and restaurants and cabs. We caught an Uber to the airport; the unmasked driver smiled broadly and said, “You don’t need a mask in my car,” as if he were offering liberation. He said he has asthma and can’t wear one, which does not explain why he wants to breathe his passengers’ germs. I reported him to Uber. 

At Jeanie’s place, a menagerie of help is now on hand. The fabulous Donna, a feisty Irish/Puerto Rican caregiver from New York, is the mainstay, fussing over sister four hours a day. There are nurses and physical therapists wandering through. Sister Bonnie, Jeanie’s primary aide, runs from work to home to here. Jeanie was sick of looking at all of us, whispering she wished we’d all go. 

So, we do. Here’s hoping the next visit will be many months away: The tulips need planting and my own bed feels so damn good.





4 thoughts on “Green Acre #353: Tropical Expectations

  1. Mary K. Weddle says:

    I agree with Margaret! You have such a way with words, Stephanie. I laughed out loud when I read the parenthetical (Do people still say that? Discuss.)

  2. Stephanie Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you Margaret! What a nice capper to the evening.

  3. Just a note to say I really enjoy Stephanie Cavanaugh’s style. Always upbeat. Always a bit of wry humor, even when writing about subjects with sad parts. Keep it up!

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Coming from you, a terrific writer, that means a lot! I’ll be sure Steph sees your message. Thanks for reading!

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