MARY READY: Magnolia memories in a modern world

Mary Ready, Ready of Not

Lately, Bogie and I take our walk down a quiet neighborhood street filled with the heady scent of magnolia trees lining the sidewalks. Pausing to enjoy the fragrance, I pick a low-hanging flower from a tree in a vacant lot.

In one hand, I carry a lovely white blossom; in the other, a poopy bag. When we get home, I place that magnolia in a vase and enjoy it for a few hours more. This evening ritual will eventually end, but the pleasant memory will endure.

In 1984, I attended the Florida English Teachers’ Convention in Pensacola. The theme for the weekend was “Moonlight and Magnolias.” I still have the T-shirt with magnolias emblazoned on the front.

Well, anyway, the guest speaker was a prominent Southern novelist who made a rambling, incoherent speech, followed by reading lengthy passages from his latest book.

At the conclusion of his obviously drunken performance, the association hostess presented him with an exquisite porcelain Magnolia nestled in a circle of emerald green leaves. It was gorgeous until he tripped while leaving the podium and smashed it into several pieces. 

Another magnolia memory comes from my school days in Greenville, Miss. I remember watching my high school’s beauty pageant with the loveliest Southern Belles gliding across a stage draped in garlands of sweet-smelling magnolias. For me, those snowy white flowers epitomized elegance and grace.

Like many old time Destinies, I have memories of the big magnolia tree at the top of the hill overlooking the docks below. I remember putting my heavy tote bag at its feet while waiting under its branches for the Sea Blaster to take me and other Choctawhatchee teachers to school when Highway 98 was washed out by Hurricane Opal.

I remember my son resting there during a diabetic episode while I ran down the nearby steps to a booth below to get him a sugar drink. I remember waiting under its shade for my captain husband to return from a fishing trip with my camera in hand because he’d called to say he’d gotten a “monster catch.” In my memory, I can still see the Second Chance coming into the harbor from my vantage point beside that great old tree.

I remember my one-armed, drunken uncle returning from a dive trip and trying to convince booth vendors to sell him another beer. Outraged when refused, he jumped into his truck to go find another source of alcohol and backed into that tree. He did no harm to the magnolia, but his truck didn’t fare so well.

It still makes a good story at family gatherings.

Referred to as “Destin Harbor’s Historic Magnolia Tree,” some say it may be anywhere from 150-200 years old. But since last fall, it’s been declared “on life support.” I hope the experts who have ministered to it are correct when they say it may still outlive all of us who are sadly watching it go through a period of decline.

I’ve always known it as “Leonard’s Tree” because town founder Leonard Destin is said to have tied his boat to it in the mid-1800s when hurricanes threatened. Over the years, memorial services have been held for various Destin captains under its loving embrace.

A recent letter to the Log suggested a conspiracy involving the possible death of “the beautiful historic magnolia tree” and the impending plan for a “money-making zip line [to be] run above it.”


But I can’t imagine even the greediest entrepreneur rejoicing over the loss of something so grand, so cherished by generations of Destin’s villagers.

The zip line will come. The roller coaster mentality will prevail in our city. We can’t stop it, and I’m done whining about what’s happened to our once innocent little community. 

But I’d like to think that even in a modern, bustling environment of high rises, mega developments, and tourist-driven entertainment facilities, there’s still room for trees.

Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax” is about human threats to the environment. The Lorax  speaks for the trees in what’s considered a fable concerning the danger corporate greed poses to nature. Then there’s Shel Silversteins’s “Giving Tree,” the story of a tree that gave and gave of itself until human selfishness left it a mere stump.

Maybe these two works of children’s fiction are cautionary tales for us in our developing world of unnatural and man-made structures.

One last literary reference, and I’ll shut up. But I can’t resist quoting Joyce Kilmer:

“I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree…

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair …

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.