On 41 East Trail between Miami to Naples, you pass a sign announcing the Turner River. It is fairly close to Clyde Butcher’s place. Win Turner will tell you the river was named for his grandfather, a famous Indian fighter. Makes no brownie points with this generation but in the days before we all became friends, he was a hero.

My friend, Win, has a son named after him. Seems odd at first to call someone, “Winner.” He doesn’t wear a blue ribbon or anything of the sort. Winner likes to kayak and teaches others the craft. Like any great hobbyist, he has several of his favorite toys at home to choose from. Winner also works wood into art. He made a chess set with two-inch pieces but learned to build from his dad. Together, they built a tree house around an old pine that has withstood several hurricanes. Recently, adding a deck. Yes, a tree house with an open air deck.

Win Turner, 80 something close to 90 used to donate so much of his time to Naples Botanical Gardens they made plaques for him, many certificates of 1,000/hours-a-year and many other goodies. He puts together floral arrangements that would make any florist say, “Wow!” Growing things is his heart’s love. Starting plants from a leaf, stem or seed, Win has a knack for it like a baker has a knack for cookies.

His mind isn’t what it used to be, but he has plenty to remember and will tell you all about it. When you meet him, say, “Hi, Win.” He will take it from there. The next thing you hear could be about his premature weight and how he wasn’t supposed to live. An older sister made him her project and fed him with a corner of a hankie dipped in milk. Years later, he and siblings would swim across a channel from their island home to the mainland taking turns pushing their school clothes along in a wash tub.

His eyes glaze over when remembering the fires on the beach to boil coquina soup by day and how the fire would light the night as they dug nests to sleep in the moist sand. He told me “Mother would make a custard from pond apples,” using his hands to recreate her stirring motion to sift the seeds from the ripe pulp in a sieve.

I love the way he takes me back in time, painting pictures in my mind with his words describing the way of early Naples. His family owned a large tract northwest of what is now Tin City. A restaurant there now bears the Turner namesake out of respect of heritage.

Win has traveled extensively in search of orchids and other delightful green growing things to Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and all along the isthmus. I think South America was his favorite or maybe his most frequent stop because most of his stories either start or end up there. I shouldn’t tell you some orchids came home rolled up in the socks he was wearing. On my last visit to his home and garden we saw a teeny tiny orchid with a mini red bloom in a Starfruit tree.

One of his ponds has white lilies blooming and another has deep purple. The stream between becomes waterfalls at several points as paths around his garden go up hills he created and wind around diverse foliage.  He points to the tops of trees 40 feet high to say, “I grew that one from seed.”

His many trades besides being able to build anything from the ground up, include landscaper, irrigation specialist and commercial fisherman. His dad was a fisherman and also built boats. The “Turner Tuck” is a feature on all speed boats from an idea birthed by “Dad.” Win gets all excited telling about it, shifting his weight from one leg to another and back again. The curved indention allows for the swell of waves to dispel themselves away from the moving craft.

As a crabber and fisherman traveling north along the Atlantic, seasonally, Win met Audrey in New York. Their marriage lasted over 40 years and would have gone longer had not illness taken her. Win brought flowers to her bed everyday while their mature children waited on her meals and such needs. She loved his orchids. His bumper sticker declares himself to be an “Orchid donor.”

Their adult children live on adjacent properties and are looking after their dad now. It is hard to find him amid the tall plants but if you are patient, you will spot him meandering. Wave. He will have a smile and a story for you, all worth waiting for.

Long before, I asked Win about his relationship with our Lord. He had much to declare.

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Debi lives close to nature in Southwest Florida with the hope and joy of having a closer walk with the Lord God for us all. Her work as an artist, author and teacher lean toward this goal.