Bradford pear tree resembled its namesake

Remembering: When a truck destroys a favorite planting, it stirs memories of a neighbor.

April 17, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

ONE DAY LAST FALL, a city work crew materialized in front of my house and planted a spindly young tree to replace a mature one a big truck had totaled. I never thought the little tree would make it through the winter.

I was wrong. It's just finished a fine show of bloom, and tender green leaves fill its little branches.

My family names trees after the person responsible for their planting. A venerable old sycamore in front of the Guilford Avenue house was always Mr. Hoopper's tree, named for a longtime neighbor. When it became diseased and was cut down, my mother had a large section of its trunk deposited on her front porch. There it remains, used as a plant stand.

Still surviving down the street is a large silver maple named for another old friend of the family, Ida Delano Cullison. Ida, like my mother and Mr. Hoopper, is no longer with us, but her tree is.

The tree that the truck smashed into was a Bradford pear about 15 years old. It had been a gift to me from Dorothy Croswell, a family friend who lived in Charles Village nearly all her life, but never owned property, so 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 that were planted in her name. At least one went into Wyman Park near her Charles Street apartment, while another came to the sidewalk outside my door.

Dorothy's tree always prospered. It thrived alongside the St. Paul Street granite curb line, surviving dogs, placard tackers and amateur parallel parkers. It had shot up to almost 25 feet high when it met its sad fate.

It seemed to display some of the characteristics of its human namesake. It was, for instance, early to blossom every April. Dorothy herself was an early riser and early arriver; if you invited her for an event at 6, she arrived at 5: 30 and wondered, aloud, why you weren't ready.

Like Dorothy, the tree also 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. She attacked crossword puzzles and would not surrender them until they were complete -- and correct.

The tree showed its tenacity in intriguing ways. Well after the rest of the garden had retired for the winter, this tree was still green.

The tree finally shed quite late, about the time that Dorothy started making 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.

I'm not sure just how Dorothy might have reacted to the accident that claimed her tree and required its replacement. 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 quilt -- appropriately in the tree of life pattern -- had a built-in flaw. It was made from a commercial kit that developed little holes, small tears on a handwork 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: 4/17/99

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