The tree

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Some in the town say the tree has stood for a hundred years. Others say it’s much older. Alone in a field of emerald grass almost as soft as carpet, the old pear tree still stands – although it has seen better days.

It was magnificent: 30 feet towards the sky its branches once reached, but no longer. Bent and twisted by time and circumstance, what’s left of the largest pear tree in town now barely reaches one-third that height. Still, against all odds, from season to season, its function hasn’t changed: providing shade from the harsh sun during the summer and fresh fruit during the fall.

In front of their small clapboard house erected at the edge of the Southern town, loving newlyweds had planted the sapling. She was expecting the first of their five children; he was commemorating the moment of homeownership ... and fatherhood, both of which excited and frightened him. As their family grew, so did their love for each other.

The tree also grew. It bore fruit the second year. This was unusual for a pear tree, but this was to be no ordinary tree. During the spring, it provided pink fragrant blooms. Late in summer, the branches hung heavy with fruit — firm and juicy, perfect for pies and canning. During the winter, the hair-net of branches provided a barrier against the frigid northern wind. By the fourth year, its branches were strong enough to support a climber. And the first of their children became one.

In their time, each of the five children followed suit, and so did the grandchildren. The giant pear tree welcomed them all. During the Great Depression, it provided an abundance of fruit for the family, both for canning and for selling. So much so they were able to hold onto their home when many others were losing theirs.

In ’69 the small clapboard house caught fire. Luckily, the entire family got out safely and met at their special place so the father could account for everyone. The meeting place was under the grand old pear tree in the front yard.

Unfortunately, the house was a total loss. The heat damaged the tree so badly that many limbs were scorched and had to be cut, yet it still survived. The very next year, it bore fruit. After all, what good to anyone is an old pear tree that isn’t productive?

Instead of rebuilding, the family moved into a new modern subdivision on Flamingo Street, but still came by to visit the tree and enjoy the pink fragrant blooms in spring and harvest its fruit in the fall. That was until two years ago.

A horrific storm passed through the now bustling town, uprooting most of the old trees. It took six months for the loggers to cut all the fallen trees and clear all the lands, but no one touched the old pear tree — it had survived the storm — but again, not unscathed.

A stray lightning bolt had arched across the blackened sky that night, struck down half the tree, and in doing so, sealed its fate. It’s well known that once a tree is struck, it will not survive.

Last week I stood below the tree and filled a bag full of pears. In a year, maybe two, the end will come and it will bear fruit no longer. I gazed at its twisted form, found the foundation of the old clapboard house and was soon overcome with emotion.

This once majestic tree that so many had depended upon through the years was now a mere shadow of what it once was. It saddens me still.

The fruit we bear comes back to us over time. Some years we have a better harvest than others. The ripe old age of 83 is a milestone not many reach. And those that do reach it have been bent and twisted by not only time, but also by circumstance.

Just like the old pear tree, they are magnificent because they still bear the fruit of wisdom, knowledge, and love.

Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for still being around and bearing fruit.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]

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