Welcome to our newest contributor, Jack McDonough, who formerly read his essays on WUML’s Sunrise program. Here’s his first submission to this site:
The Mail Order Tree
I don’t remember how old I was when my father sent away for that Tulip tree. I guess I was twelve or so.
I also don’t know what possessed him to do that. He wasn’t a “green thumb” kind of guy, although we did have a lot of shrubbery and flowers around the place. Mostly, I think, the landscaping was done under my mother’s direction.
But I remember my father sending away for this tree. And when it arrived it had one brittle main stem, which immediately broke off. But we planted what was left anyway, near the rear of the side lawn, halfway between the garage and the Butler house next door. It was a sad little plant and we didn’t hold out much hope for its survival.
But, over the years, it persevered. It somehow grew another trunk to replace the missing one and, without much help from anyone, it just kept growing.
Years later, when I went home for a visit with my young family, we took a photograph around that tree. Our three children sat on a sturdy lower branch, and my mother and my wife stood on the ground next to them.
My father had died by then. He never lived to see his grandchildren but I hope he looked at that tree from time to time and was as proud of it as I am.
Near the end, after my mother went to the nursing home, we sold the house. I still drive by it once in a while. I don’t know who lives there now because the house has changed hands a couple of times. It looks nice, though. A new coat of paint. Well kept grounds.
I think one day I might stop and ring the bell and tell the owners about that tree that stands so very tall and sturdy in their yard. I wonder if it would mean anything to them. Maybe not.
I never did just drop by and ring the doorbell of my old family home. But, several years after writing this brief essay, I did put a copy of it into an envelope addressed to “Current Owners,” along with a letter saying that I thought they might appreciate knowing the history of their tree, and offering to visit them and describe more about the background of their home and neighborhood.
Several days later, I received a telephone call from a man named Peter who, with his wife, Gayle, now owns the house. He said they loved learning about the tree and invited us to come and see them.
So on a sunny spring day last year we drove to my old home town in southern New Hampshire and spent several pleasant hours visiting with the present owners and admiring the tasteful changes and improvements they had made to both the house and the grounds.
But, fittingly, it was news about the tree that brought the story full circle.
More than a year earlier, Peter and Gayle had seen a story in the local paper reporting that the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension was looking for outstanding examples of various tree species as part of its Big Tree Program. Having learned that theirs was a Tulip tree, an unusual type in the region, they contacted the extension service, which sent representatives to examine the tree, measure it and, ultimately, to declare it a County Champion Big Tree.
That tiny, sad little sapling that began its life more than half a century ago with a broken main stem now looms 120 feet in the air with a trunk that measures 120 inches in circumference.
In those first early months it looked like anything but a contender. Now it’s a Champion. My father would have loved that.
— Jack McDonough