White Pine Memories

The white pine in our back yard was never a beautiful tree. It didn’t provide a nice blanket of shade, only spotty patches. In fact, I always thought it was more a nuisance than anything. It grew tall and disproportionately wide, and dropped hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little pine cones into the grass. The pine cones always seemed to burrow into the lawn, causing a hazard for anyone wandering around the yard barefoot, which I tend to do.

Jack bought two of these trees during the first year we were in our house. We were young, didn’t have a lot of money, and had a brand new baby. The trees were cheap, and he planted one in the front yard and one in the back. They were never pretty, but they helped reduce the vast expanse of nothingness until we could afford to improve the landscaping.

A beautiful maple as well as a flowering crab-apple tree were eventually added to the front yard. I always wished for a prettier, leaf-bearing tree in the back too. For many years, the kids swing set took up the only other available space. Later it was one of those things that was always on the list of home improvements, but forever low on the priority list … until disease struck the lone pine tree. It started showing signs last summer. By this spring, it was good and dead.

This long, Memorial Day weekend provided the opportunity to take the tree down. Jack sawed off as many of the branches as he could and hauled them away late last week. Then on Saturday, he managed the chain saw, cutting notches in just the right places low on the tree trunk. Chesney and I held a rope, guiding and pulling the old tree down into the yard where it wouldn’t fall on the shed, the deck or the house.

It’s never been a secret that I wasn’t a fan of that tree. When it was down, and the clean-up work was finished, Jack asked if I was happy. “Happy” wasn’t exactly what I was feeling. The removal of the tree left a slight emptiness both in the yard and surprisingly, in me.

The tree wasn’t merely a tree. Even though I always thought it was ugly, it had become a part of our days here in this home. It was a refuge to many birds over the years. It was second base for countless numbers of the kids’ wiffle ball games. Lucy circled that tree daily as the squirrels she chased sought refuge high above where she couldn’t reach them and they joyfully taunted her.

It feels strange to see the openness where the tree once stood. Before the summer is gone, I plan to design a fire pit in the place where the stump remains. I have visions of sitting around a bonfire with family and friends, sharing stories and roasting marshmallows. We’ll add new family memories to the wiffle ball memories.

A new tree will eventually be planted elsewhere in the yard. We’ll make a new place for the birds to rest and entertain us with their songs, a new squirrel-chasing track for Lucy, something that years down the road, promises to offer shade.

As so many other things in this life have taught me, the loss of the tree offers yet another example of the ways that life always goes on.

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4 thoughts on “White Pine Memories

  1. Something poignantly sad about having to remove a tree (or having a storm remove it for you). Best to take it down now before Mother Nature dropped it onto your house. ‘Tis the end of one era, ma’am, but the beginning of a new one! And woohoo, no more pine cones to step on!

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  2. I felt the same as de-i… no way would I trust myself or any of my family members to take down a tree on our own. Hats off to the three of you!
    Great story, though. And I love the fire pit idea. A great way to create more memories! 🙂

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  3. Most of my customers over decades became close friends. Trust has that effect on folks. Many popped over to my house to “share a loaf of rye seed bread I made for you…got butter and some beers. Keystone?”

    One customer spoke to me of thinking he wanted to drive his teen daughter 150 miles away for a breast reduction because of peer cruelty. “What do you think Keystone?”. We talked.

    At the start of my career, I determined to organize my days to be the “best 10 minutes” in each customer’s day; my day became pleasure all day, not work.

    Cards come in from all over as retired “friends” now travel.
    I have been to the funeral of their grandchildren.

    One, really knocked me over with his words. “We let my 10 year old son stay overnight with his best friend. They lived in a mobile home. We heard the radio chatter from Emergency and my wife and I went over there quick. My son and his friend were being roasted alive. Their screams still echo. (It sent the wife to so much anguish that she mentally collapsed and died in her late 30’s a few years later)

    A decade later, at my mega church, I was in a Monday night Life Group. About 30 of us gathered in an Italian home, to strengthen our daily lives and faith, share joys and anguishes.
    Dave, hugely overweight… some of it from carrying the biggest, live filled heart for everyone… sat in the same spot with his wife Kris. When the Bible and discussions ended, we ate Italian food to dream about.
    That’s when Dave chatted with me.
    Their 13 year old son had just been in the church Christmas play, had leukemia, and died. Dave and Kris were distraught in grief. He asked me “What could help us?”
    At first, I employed the quote I keep on my desk in my home office:
    “Having a fine command of the English language, I said nothing”.

    Then, I remembered my customer (now remarried and recovering) who heard his son’s death. I told Dave I wanted to talk to somebody and get back to him and Kris.

    “What was the ONE thing you did, Greg, to help you in your grief recovery after your son died in that fire?”
    Without hesitation, he enlightened me:
    “We planted a tree right out front. It was just a big stick at first, then grew. We could never have a prom, graduation, college, wedding, grandchildren, or even his birthday or Christmas again. So we planted that Memorial Tree and as those celebrations began to arrive, we gathered at my son’s tree… he is always remembered and watching the tree grow let’s us imagine our son grow too. That started my path back to living”.

    I went back to Dave and reported he is not alone, and I told him of another 10 year old saint, and what his dad, Greg, did that helped. Dave and Kris leaned in to me with ‘thanks and hope” in their eyes.

    “I wanna think about this and choose the right tree for my boy”

    Months later, Dave called me (I used to not be deaf). “We picked out the tree, our family is all here, the hole is dug. Would you come over and say the prayers for us at the planting?” I was honored at the request. Over the years, that tree brought Dave and Kris back from the brink. Everyone at church saw it. Our friendship deepened.

    My mom died in 2008. On her 87th birthday. She had been visiting my sister in Portland and always returned home in PA for her birthday and the gathering.
    But the Autumn before, I was visiting her in Oregon (she was passed among siblings after being found alone in a diabetic coma) and she told me that this travel from house to house was hated.

    “I wanna go home Keystone”
    “Home” meant PA where she birthed 12 kids in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.
    I am a middle child (I count the miscarried child in the 7 pregnancies after my birth, as a sibling…totalling 13, not 12…and me at 7. My oldest sisters were married and had kids before my younger sisters were born. Mom left 99 grandchildren and great grands.

    “Mom, my stuff is in Florida. I will leave everything in storage, drive my car up to PA and find us a 2 bedroom home. You and me. No siblings moving back home (they all did over time for life reasons everyone encounters). And my kids can visit, not move back. I am too old for this.”
    “OK Keystone!”

    It was the last time I saw her alive.
    I did drive up the Autumn before.
    She wintered in Oregon instead of FL, or Tenn, or other sibling choices. Everyone was coming to PA for her May birthday party. Except the weekend before return, she had a stroke. Sisters flew out there. Brothers waited to prepare a party… or a funeral. At 11:11am on her 87th year, she died amidst a chorus of sisters singing praises to God.

    The bustle of a Catholic funeral shifted into gear. Mom and I chose where she and dad would be buried in 1984 when dad died. Her name and birthday were already etched in her spot. Who ever dreamed her death would be the same day and month?
    The funeral and gathering are a separate story I may share someday, for I surprised my siblings by placing small branches from a tree next to mom in her casket.
    “Keystone, what’s going on with that tree you put by mom???”
    I was surprised to learn that I was her only child that she revealed the “Kissing Tree” story to…. the tree that started our entire family when a 16 year old girl came to see the boy she would marry within 2 years.
    Long story…but parts of the Kissing Tree were close to mom in her casket.
    My siblings were in awe of the story she told only me. Even the priest heard it, and brother stabbed me in the side to “mouth words I could lip read”….
    “Hey! This guy is talking about your tree!”
    “What did he say?”
    “He says ‘the Tree is the Symbol of Life'”
    I could go on….

    My realtor never stopped looking for a 2 bedroom home. I was in too much grief for months. I had woked in PA, FL, OR, and lived a while in Phoenix. My days were to be with mom where I was born the 7th child in her 31st year of life.

    I moved into a 2 bedroom home that I found by accident. The realtor did her thing. And the following Spring I brought my household from FL to this dinky place.
    I have been deaccumulating since.

    But when I bought in September, 2008 on the day our economy collapsed and sucked the worth out of the money I spent that morning, I began to look for a small tree. In October, 2008, I planted Mom’s Memorial Tree off my living rook window in the middle of the extra lot I bought to garden and putz around.

    The tree is a symbol of life.
    The growth is amazing to view each season…and mom is near.

    Been too sick to take care of house or me for about 2 years. Across the street from me, a fellow told me no one has cared for that property the way you do. The flowers are awesome.
    But total neglect centered inside and out.
    Last year, my lawn was mowed. I can’t hear a firetruck, let alone a mower. The lawn had been 8 inches high the day before. A quiet man, living with his girlfriend off my backyard, mowed my lawn without charge for two years now..
    I had only met him once.

    Last year, I caught him mowing on a Thursday evening. I brought him a bottle of cold water. We gabbed.
    “My mom is dying. Cancer”.
    “Where?”
    “Pittsburgh”
    “Been sick long?”
    “Yeah….she’s gonna die tonight”
    “QUIT mowing Carl and go to Pittsburgh now”
    “No, I wanna finish. It helps me think”

    The next time he mowed, we discussed his Mom, Mary….and the funeral, estate to be cleared, erasing the legalities as Executors learn to do.
    I pointed to my mom’s tree and said I planted it the month after moving here in 2008. I told him ALL of the above.
    “You need to plant a memorial tree for Mary, Carl. You have been mowing my mom’s memorial tree that I view daily”
    Carl smiled.

    This Spring, I walked over to retrieve a small mulching mower I managed to mess up last fall. His girlfriend said leave it. Carl can fix anything. I forgot about it for 6 months. When I walked over, Carl said it had waay to much oil but he drained, repaired and it is good as new.
    My eyes can’t see clear oil on a dipstick anymore. The Cleveland Clinic said onset of macular degeneration. I don’t mind being deaf, but trouble reading is starting to tick me off.

    I wobbled from vertigo and Carl said he would walk me home. As we walked, he stopped and said “I wanna show you something” and pointed.
    “Mary’s tree!”
    It was braced from 3 sides, all new soil, and up to our waist in height.
    “What tree did you choose for Mary?”
    “It’s a cherry tree, Keystone!
    My mom loved everything cherry”
    Carl was smiling that recovery smile I have noted for decades.

    This is a long way to just tell you why you can let your pine go and do whatever.
    BUT, you need to quietly, on your own, begin to choose the type of tree and the spot in your yard that will be her memorial tree all of your days terri.
    You may even show her this comment and kibbitz a conversation with her on the choice. Mom’s still surprise us at times.

    And the tree…. is the symbol of life!

    The comment has winded me now.
    But you are precious enough to make the effort worthwhile. Plant a tree for me too.
    Forgive typos. Can’t see like I used to

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