Old trees, like beloved friends, leave behind some quirky tales

November 09, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

MY FAMILY NAMED trees after the person responsible for their planting.

A venerable old sycamore that stood in front of the Guilford Avenue house was always Mr. Hoopper's tree, named for the neighbor who moved into that house in 1925. When it became diseased and the city cut it down, my late mother instructed the trimmers to deposit a large section of its trunk on her front porch, where it remains, used as a plant stand.

Down the street -- and still surviving -- is a large silver maple. It was ever Ida Delano's tree, named for another old friend of the family who settled on the street when the houses were new. Ida, like Mr. Hoopper, is no longer with us, but her tree is.

Until a couple of Friday mornings ago, a fine Bradford pear stood in the sidewalk opening at the front of my house. At the peak of morning rush-hour traffic, I heard a sound like the wood splitting in a baseball bat. A truck delivering millwork clipped the tree. It split in two, crashed across the sidewalk and took a chunk of my ancient iron fencing with it. The tree was a loss, but no humans suffered.

Although the tree faced my home, I never really thought of it as being mine. It was a gift to me, with some strings attached. The donor was Dorothy Croswell, a family friend who lived in Charles Village nearly all her life, but never owned property. She lived in apartments and therefore never had much of a place for a tree or garden.

When she retired after 40 years with the Department of Social Services, her associates passed the hat and purchased several trees subsequently planted in her name. At least one went into Wyman Park, roughly opposite her Charles Street apartment, while the other came to the sidewalk outside my front door.

From the time the city forester planted it about 15 years ago, Dorothy's tree prospered. It thrived alongside the St. Paul Street granite curb line, surviving dogs, placard tackers and amateur parallel parkers. It had shot up to about the height of 25 feet when it met its sad fate.

A couple of years ago, Dorothy Croswell joined the heavenly choir, along with the earlier arrivals Ida Delano and Mr. Hoopper. A more unlikely trio I could not imagine.

Dorothy's tree displayed many of the characteristics of its namesake.

It was early to blossom every April, just as Dorothy was an early riser and early arriver. If you invited her for an event at 6 p.m., she arrived at 5: 30 and wondered, aloud, why you weren't ready.

Both she and the tree had tremendous tenacity. Dorothy had but one job during her life, that of a city social worker. She was an industrious worker, who never procrastinated, on the job or off. As a hobby, she attacked crossword puzzles and would not surrender until they were finished.

A bit of a public gadfly, she also wrote letters, in a peculiar longhand, to officials and people she felt earned one of her epistles. She was a punctual regular at Second Presbyterian Church.

The tree had its tenacious side, too. Once it leafed, it stayed green for a long time. Well after the rest of the front garden had retired for the winter, the tree was still green. Dorothy's tree could be covered with wet snow and its no-quit leaves would weigh down the branches.

The tree finally shed quite late, about the time that Dorothy started marking noises about leaving for Florida to visit her family for the holidays. On many a Christmas Eve, I quietly cursed the task of yet one more rake, broom and bag job because the Bradford pear was so slow in relinquishing the last of its leaves, which, on a particularly mild year, could stay attached until early January.

Now I'm waiting for the city to come and clear away the last of the trunk and few branches the truck didn't fell. There's a still a painful scar where the main trunk took the crash.

I'm not sure just how the donor might react to this accident. She herself was known to break a platter or two in her haste to do the dinner dishes and move on to the next task.

In this, I'm reminded of the quilt she once made for me, an elaborate exercise in cross-stitched handwork. But like the all too-brittle Bradford pear, the spread had a built-in flaw. It was made from a commercial kit that developed little holes -- small tears on a hand-made project that took eight months of painstaking needlework.

I was upset that its maker might be upset that a blend of poly-cotton had ruined her labors. Not so, she said. Then she got out her sewing basket again. In another eight months, a new quilt appeared.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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