Fauna, Flora, Fern, and Frankbyandtheend©
Elderly couple donates their land for a public park on Earth Day.
Earth Day had a different meaning for Fern and Frank. Married for more than sixty years and in poor health for the last ten years, they made a pact. A man on a mission for all that Fern had done for him throughout their lives together, the cooking, the cleaning, the caring, and the loving support she gave him, Frank would do for Fern what she was now too frail and too feeble to do for herself. Donating their land on Earth Day for a public park was their first step in the process and a final tribute to one another, as well as a lasting memory to their beloved neighborhood.
Before they had grown old and lost their health, their life wasn't always as sedentary for Fern and Frank. On a good day, Frank was still mobile enough to go out and do the grocery shopping and he'd take Fern with him in her wheelchair, whenever she was feeling up to getting some air. Before they had become ill, they were always out and about and proactive in their community. Now, they seldom venture out for fear of falling, a death sentence at their age, if breaking a hip bone, more so for Frank because, then, who'd care for Fern?
Nearing the end of their lives, waiting for the inevitableness of death, the light of their sunrise dimming with blurry darkness, before turning to the black of midnight, they had not much more to live for and to look forward to, other than more aches and pains, and more sadness from reading in the obituaries about an old, dear friend or a close relative dying. It had been a long and wonderful life, but if being a shut-in, unable to go out, and bedridden with illnesses, is all they had to look forward to, then there wasn't much sense with living more of life. Tired, weak, and weary, expecting it, almost looking forward to it, they were ready to die.
When they were younger, they always hoped to live to a ripe, old age, but now that they were at that ripe, old age, it was painful to watch their friends and family die, many of whom were younger than they were. It hit them harder when someone younger died, before them, and the death of a celebrity always surprised them, especially when they were older than they were, when they died. Their deaths punctuated the soon to be inevitable, such as Ed McMahon, Bea Arthur, and Ted Kennedy, dying recently, just to name a few. The celebrities younger, at the time, than they were, still expecting Publisher's Clearing House with Ed McMahon to show up at their door, while holding a check for ten million dollars to give them for winning the contest, his demise hit them hard. It more bothered them that they were too old and too frail to drive across town to pay their final respects to a good friend or a close family member that had suddenly departed or succumbed, after a long illness.
Now, hiding in their home, watching the world pass by their small house from behind Fern's dusty, lace curtains, her mother's curtains, that Fern always took pride in washing, starching, and ironing, she could no longer maintain their care. Their infirmities and maladies denied them the simple pleasure of even taking a walk on a sunny day and reconnecting with their old friends, who still lived in their neighborhood. Being able to take a walk was the one thing, more than anything else, that they missed the most.
When they walked, they always walked holding hands, while talking. Their favorite pastime, walking and talking, they've had more than sixty years of handholding and going through life together. A simple pleasure, they never tired of feeling the connection they had for one another, when holding hands. Besides, holding hands was something they loved doing and always did, even while sitting on the sofa together and watching television. Now, too old to safely walk unescorted they were relegated to watch their neighbors from their kitchen window.
Holding hands was a big deal back then that too many of the younger people wouldn't understand today. Unfortunately, now, should they fall, every surface in their neighborhood was hard concrete and fatal. Unless they drove somewhere else to walk, a better neighborhood, perhaps, there was no safe place to walk that had soft grass. They used to have a small neighborhood park to walk to but, after the park had been taken over by homeless people, prostitutes, drug dealers, used as a trash dump and infested with rats, the city sold the land to a developer to put up another absentee landlord slum apartment.
Sometimes feeling like prisoners in their own home, especially on those pleasant days, when they weren't able to go out for a walk, wanting to go out but sitting at home bored, made them feel, as if they were just waiting to die. In the meantime, as a diversion, on those sunny days, when they tired of being home alone, they struggled to think of what they could do to leave something everlasting and self-sustaining behind upon their demise. Only, much like everyone else in their small community and those communities that surrounded their community, they were poor.
All they had was their small house, an old car, some antique furniture pieces that were passed down from their mothers and grandmothers, and the land they had out back behind their house. Certainly, the antique furniture was worth some money at auction, but Fern could never imagine parting with furniture that had always been in her family or in his family. Mentioned in their will, they always figured they'd leave it to a family member, but too many of their family, those who they thought about leaving the furniture to, were dying before them.
Life wasn't always like this for them. Coming together at a time when the world was coming apart, their life began with them being separated. They were happy that they were finally reunited again, after being apart for nearly two years. One lost without the other, and not knowing if they'd ever meet again, after finding their true love and realizing the life they wanted to share, something too many people never find, it was difficult for Frank to let go of Fern to do his duty and serve his country during World War II.
They fell in love at a chaotic time and a difficult period. It was a time of death, devastation, and destruction, when the world was at war. With the Germans conquering most of Europe without a fight and Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, it was a time when people didn't know if they'd survive. After the war, it was a time when the real Commander in Chief, Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of only 4 five-star generals in the history of the United States Army, was in charge of the country, as President of the United States. It was a time when all young men were either wearing a uniform or removing one; patriotic pride never ran higher.
Frank had finished his fighting. Done with the war, done with his tour of duty, and done serving his country, as a proud and decorated soldier, a veteran of World War II, it was his time to forget the past and continue forward with the future. It was his time for love, instead of hate and living life, instead of waiting for death. He had met Fern at a USO dance and they married, just before he shipped overseas to France.
Never having been out of the country, never having been on a plane, he was just a kid, still wet behind the ears. What did he know? All he knew was that he loved Fern and was already missing her. She wrote him nearly every day, impatiently waiting for his reply, as well as his safe return. It was her tender love letters that sustained him through what he had to endure, away at war and killing men, an enemy he didn't even know, while watching his buddies dying, with some of them taking the bullets that were meant for him.
Starting their life together, long before there was even such a commemorative day as Earth Day, they didn't need a special day to remind them to be in tune with their natural surroundings and kind to their planet. Deeply religious, they had already been touched by the beauty of nature and by all things good that God had put forth on this green Earth for their use. Having been born during the Roaring '20's and, even as children, having already experienced the very good times, along with the very bad, they were taught by their parents, who had lived through the Great Depression, to appreciate whatever was given them and to be thankful for whatever they had. Ingrained with the belief in the balance of nature that carried through in the harmony of their lives, they cared more for their environment than most of their younger, live for today, unappreciative and oblivious neighbors.
Ahead of their time in their protective concern for the preservation of the ecology, it was an obligation reinforced by their Protestant Puritan philosophy, no doubt. Their religion set the table for how they viewed their roles as citizens not only of their neighborhood but also of the world. In doing their part and their fair share, long before there were well worn terms such as global warming, social responsibility, recycling, and carbon footprints, it was their waste not want not, use it up, make do, and do without values that carried their responsibilities over to them being private environmental conservationists and role models to others in their community. Without even realizing it, long before anyone ever heard of such a thing as an environmental conservationist, they were already doing their part in helping to preserve the planet by not wasting natural resources.
Responding to the public push from Lady Bird Johnson in the '60's to help keep America beautiful by not dumping trash along the highway, they always drove a small, fuel efficient car, at a time when bigger was better in America. When we think about it now, it's an absolute abomination that we had to have the wife of the President of the United States, along with billboard ads of an American Indian crying, to stop people from dumping their bags of trash and garbage along the highway. Without needing to change their lives to make the small sacrifices they needed to do their part to help save the planet, they always walked with a smaller carbon footprint, anyway, than did most during those decades of conspicuous consumption and wasteful excess. Back then, most people were obviously to the ecology and conservationism.
It was a real tragedy for them to endure, when those who didn't even care about their own neighborhood, never mind the rest of the world, used their backyard as their own personal dumping ground. Other than to post no dumping signs on their private property and to call the police to report the offenders, whenever he saw someone dumping trash, Frank was already too old, too slow, too weak, and too weary to do anything more about it than to yell out his kitchen window at them. Even though he hadn't dumped any of the trash and garbage, he stopped calling the police, when the city fined him for dumping and ordered him to clean up his land. Certainly, it wasn't fair, but he understood the logic behind it. There wasn't much he could do about it, but to pay the fine and to clean up, after those who had dumped on his property, only to have them continue to use his backyard as their dump again and again.
Finally fed up with trying to keep his land free of trash and garbage, it was then that they thought of what they could do to leave something everlasting and self-sustaining behind. Earth Day was the day they decided to officially donate their land to the city for the creation of a public park. It was a grand idea with a grand plan and Frank and Fern were both so very excited by the prospect of the idea that they told all their friends and neighbors. Only, in this time of budget cuts and financial crisis, would the city agree to set aside the monies needed to build a public park in this community that vandalized whatever improvements the city made?
Nonetheless, it was worth a try. With permits in hand, Frank went before the City Council and had the unanimous approval of every City Councilor and the final approval of the Mayor. Those neighbors, who were present at the city council meeting, gave Frank a standing ovation and the City Council President had to bang the gavel several times to finally gain orderly control of the proceedings. Without realizing all that his donation of land would do, he was the first to take a stand to claim back the neighborhood. Instantly, Frank had become a shining star, a champion, and a hero in his neighborhood, at a time, when there were only criminals, absentee landlords, and crocked politicians.
From the conception of his idea on the previous Earth Day, it took exactly one year to the day to draw up the plans, obtain the building permits, have it approved by the city, and for the city to build it. Frank and Fern weren't sure if they'd live to see their park through to completion but, in watching the process and progress, it gave them something to do from their kitchen window on those days, when they were unable to go outside. The promise of a new public park gave them renewed hope for a new tomorrow. Excited about going for a stroll on the soft grass, while holding hands and talking, wanting to see the park finished gave them something to look forward to and to live, if only, for one more day.
Their generous gift of land meant more to the neighborhood than a parcel of trash filled land meant to Frank and Fern. In a neighborhood so ravaged by criminals, when all there is to look forward to each day is crime and corruption, a turning point in the community, the neighbors were all quick to understand the ramifications of such a giving and generous gift. Now their children would have someplace safe to play, other than out in the street.
A neighborhood consumed with blight and abandoned houses, drugs and drug dealers, prostitution and prostitutes, and crime and police sirens, there was a sudden excitement about having a public park in a community that was so decimated by poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness. So desperate for something good to happen to break the cycle of despair and change the status quo from bad to good, when people are so beaten down, it doesn't take much of a gesture for them to grasp at any straw to help them pull themselves up and to make a positive change to help others do the same.
It was after the local newspaper reported the land donation that an excitement that hadn't hit this community, since a celebrity, someone who had grown up here, gotten out and made good, and revisited his or her old birthplace, gave a good glow to a bad neighborhood. Suddenly, as if turning on the power, after it had been unplugged for a very long time, there was an electric energy in the air that energized everyone. Even the newspaper, not wanting to pull the plug on such a positive story, glad to report anything but another assault, rape, murder, or arson investigation, latched onto Frank and Fern and wouldn't let go of their good Samaritan story.
The power of positive thought was just what this neighborhood needed and switching from the negativity of reporting crime that has desensitized everyone, anyway, the progress accounts and subsequent stories about Frank and Fern's land donation for the purpose of a public park, along with a back story of Frank and Fern, were selling more newspapers. With the newspaper accounts comparing the haves and the have nots and comparing this community to other more affluent communities, reading much like a Charles Dickens saga, A Tale Of Two Cities, with it was the best of times and it was the worst of times theme, everyone was following the story, especially after the newspaper put it Online for those throughout the country and throughout the world to read and follow.
Their story appeared in the newspaper weekly, updating the neighbors and the neighborhood on the progress of their newly proposed public park. Columnists from other newspapers around the world wrote regular columns about how this one gesture was helping to not only save a neighborhood but also helping to rebuild a community. The reporter who interviewed Frank and Fern and the newspaper that published their photos on the front page, followed up the public park story by highlighting the love story of Frank and Fern, during World War II. It was a tender and touching story and one that sold a lot of newspapers.
Only, much like how the Senator McCain and the Republicans had latched onto Joe the plumber, during the presidential campaign, it wasn't until President Obama made an off the cuff comment during an interview that this country needed more people like Frank and Fern that, suddenly, the whole country turned their heads wanting to know who they were and how to embrace this elderly couple. A snowball growing larger with each roll, after the President's comment, as an aside, a tiny tidbit story at the end of the nightly news broadcast, Frank and Fern was picked up by the national news, when Diane Sawyer took an interest in a small neighborhood that was not far from her Manhattan penthouse. Suddenly, there were satellite trucks parked on the street, while interviewing Frank and Fern and showing a live feed segment of their donated land. Promising to return with the completion of the park, another New York icon, Andy Rooney, took an interest in Frank and Fern's story, and 60 Minutes wanted to do a piece on them, as well. Something good that this country needed during a time of economic despair, the story had long legs and just wouldn't die.
Making a donation on behalf of the park, Oprah had Frank and Fern on Skype and played their faces, along with their story across the country. What had started out as just a parcel of donated land snowballed, grew, and morphed into a monumental effort, a community campaign, once the entire neighborhood got wind of it and through their support behind it. Now the whole world was watching, but it soured Frank that no one took interest in his neighborhood before. There were a lot of good people who lived here and each one of them had just as much of an interesting story as they had. Only, just as this community had been ignored for so long, too long, everyone else who lived here had been ignored, too.
Everyone was excited by the idea of something new and modern in their neighborhood, instead of something old and broken in their lives. The public donation of land gave the neighbors not only something to talk about but also something to make them look forward to and feel good about; it was more than just a park, after all. It was a sign of change, a symbol of Christian spirit, and something they all needed to have happen to take them out of their doldrums. The park was something that would personally effect all who lived here.
It gave those who lived here hope that their neighborhood had turned a corner and reversed direction from a downward spiral of decimation to an upward climb towards urban reclamation. It had been a long and difficult drought, one filled with crime and poverty and one that gradually worsened and lasted for nearly 30 years. This plan for a neighborhood park, tucked away in the middle of the inner city, was just the thing that the neighborhood and the neighbors needed to get them out of their funk and out of their huddled houses.
The proposed park captured everyone's interest and suddenly made those, who lived here and who feared leaving their homes, more active in their community. It was magical. It was inspirational. It was a Godsend. With Frank and Fern reluctantly taking center stage and setting the example, it was the miracle that this neighborhood needed and that gave the residents hope, along with the reason and the excuse they all were looking for to change their lives for the better.
The park was an adrenaline injection to a dying community. Finally, there'd be a place for the kids to safely play and a place for families to gather with other families. This reconnection of people talking with their neighbors and coming out in their neighborhood, instead of shunning their neighbors and hiding in their homes, was just what was needed to spark a communal, positive change.