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A Birthday Present to a Pope

Pamela Record sits beside the back portion of the garden she planted in memory of the pope who shares her birthday.

While he lived, this date, May 18, was the birthday of Karol Wojtyla, who later became the much loved Pope John Paul II. It must have been a big day when he was a small boy in Poland.

It is still a big day for Pamela Record of Brandon, and she celebrated it by planting a special garden, in spite of some very large problems.

"I have always felt close to Pope John Paul II because we share the same birthday," Pamela says. "Different years, of course. He is almost the only Pope I remember. And when we went to Rome in 1983, I was as close to him as I am to you right now.

She has a whole album of photos that prove it. Many people in the area will remember that trip, for 87 of the group of 587 from the Diocese of St. Petersburg were from Nativity Church, which was the only Catholic Church in Brandon at the time. They rented and filled an entire jet plane out of New York. Father Lara was with the group. Bishop Thomas Larkin, who went to school with the former pope, headed it.

"We got up at 5 a.m. that morning in Rome to get in line where we stood for two hours," says Pamela. She had hurt her leg on one of the pillars of St. Peters Basilica the day before, but she didn't let it stop her. It was not long after the pope had been shot in 1981, and their purses and persons were all checked carefully by guards.

"I think Bishop Larkin helped us get such good seats. There was a sea of people behind us," says Pamela. The pope came out and walked up and down the central aisle and passed right in front of us. Then he went up on a platform not far from us and spoke to everyone. He spoke in six languages and English was the last one. When he got to that, everyone waved their American flags. The audience itself lasted two hours."

Where better to find peace than in a papal garden. The canna lilies, white roses, and palm were already there.

After Pope John Paul II died recently, Pamela felt that she just had to plant a garden in his memory. She had Brandon Signs make her an appropriate sign.

Pope John Paul had many problems in his life, but as far as anyone has heard, peacocks were not among them. Maybe people who were proud as peacocks, but not the birds themselves.

Pamela knew there were wild bands of them in her neighborhood. Nevertheless, she planted and hoped.

The peacocks came in and ate their heart out. There were as many as 27 of the large birds in the yard at one time. Sometimes they roosted on the roof. They cried constantly with their screams that sound like someone is being murdered.

"When the first few peacocks came years ago," says her mother, Margaret Record, "we were all excited and ran to get the camera. But after a while, when so many came and did so much damage, we've come to wish they'd all go away."

The damage was especially disappointing when they ate the new garden. And they ate, especially the lilies that were the major plants. They ate the buds first. They did not bother the lavender false heather or Persian violets. They left the yellow purslane and moss roses and the yellow Marguarite daisies. But she felt their lily feast quite wrecked the garden and called to cancel this writer's visit. Ten days later she called back and rescheduled.

"I've replanted," she said. "Come soon."

An angel statue sits among the lilies, Persian violets, and deep purple lisianthus or Eustoma.

"I tried to find some blue flowers since that is the Blessed Mother's color and he was so devoted to her," she says. "But blue flowers are hard to find." They do have a plumbago close by. A dogwood and three Norfolk Island pines also surround the garden.

She and her mother did more than just replant. They called the EPA who sent them to the state biologist who recommended cayenne pepper mixed in water and sprayed on the plants to keep the peacocks at bay. Pamela found that the pepper tended to clog the sprayer, so now she puts it in a sprinkling can and waters it on after every rain.

Both then and now you can hear the peacocks raucous calling almost constantly.

Margaret and Pamela Record both shudder at the sound, but there is nothing to do but offer their grief to God.

It is not hard to imagine God and Pope John Paul II, smiling down on this memorial garden in Florida planted by a young lady who shares a papal birthday today.

Another Brandon couple in the same neighborhood as the Records, Billie and George Howell, also had a great deal of trouble with peacocks eating the buds off their daylilies. It seems these regal looking birds prefer the most regal of flowers. They also ate all the flowers off of the alyssum though they left the lobelia alone. Then the Howells put up a single line of heavy twine on stakes about 15 inches high around the beds. With the string the birds could easily reach over or under, but they didn't. "I think they are afraid they will get tangled in the string," Billie Howell said in a column on their daylilies last year (June 9).

Margaret Record grows orchids and other plants on the back porch. This protected lily is what all of them would have looked like today were it not for the peacocks.