Monday, August 8, 2011

Mom sows tribute to son and other soldiers

Every spring, Gail Charlie creates a floral display so big that many of her neighbors consider it a local attraction.

"I've been doing it forever," Charlie said of the large mound of flowers that she plants at the back of her property in Clinton Township. "The mound faces the street and sidewalk so people passing by can see it. I always plant our last name in flowers."

This year, however, instead of the surname tribute, Gail has planted the display in honor of her son, Stephen Charlie, 22, and all of the other men and women serving in various branches of the U.S. military.

Pfc. Stephen Charlie
"He's a fire support specialist with the 25th infantry division, HAC brigade," Gail said. "He's stationed in Hawaii — so that's good — but he has been away from home since he enlisted last August."

"He's my only son. I miss him," she added.

As every gardener knows, working in the yard can do wonders for mind, body and spirit. So she toiled and, in the end, created a floral billboard that spells out the words, "Bless our troops."

"It has more than 400 begonias — all white — about 200 petunias and 500 alyssums. Then I added figurines — one each for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force — holding the American flag."

Neighbors praise it.

Motorists stop their cars, get out and photograph it.

Others honor it with personal tributes.

"One woman told me, 'Every time I drive by it, I am reminded of the troops that are over there. So I stop and say a prayer,' " Gail said.

A deep love for her son is what drove her to create the display, but it is her great appreciation for all of the men and women serving in the various branches of the U. S. military that inspired its patriotic design.

"Have you ever watched 'Coming Home?' " asked Gail. "You'll cry your eyes out when you do. It's a reality show about soldiers coming home to surprise their families. I thought I had it bad with my son being gone until I saw that show."

Then she saw young women trying to cope without husbands or anxiously waiting to show them the baby born while they were overseas and children crying for their moms

and dads. The show airs on the Lifetime cable network on Sundays at 10 p.m. The New York Times called it, "A sort of U.S.O. mash-up of 'Punk'd' and 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.' Instead of surprising a needy person with a new home, the show goes to some lengths to trick unsuspecting relatives and to build up the suspense and drama of a veteran's return from war. It's respectful and often quite moving. At other times, it veers into the kind of overly cute, made-for-reality television feints and flourishes that diminish the intrinsic joy of the moment."

Since it blossomed, Gail has sent Stephen photographs of the display, which he thought were great. "He even showed his army buddies," Gail said.

She's happy he liked what he saw, but even happier that in a few weeks he'll be able to smell the flowers himself.

"He's coming home," she said.

I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them -- Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.

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