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While we were putting down roots

We built our house around it, a massive oak with leaves larger than my husband’s hand and limbs that kissed the dirt. The builder warned that we’d lose that tree (and some more) over time, but we found its Pisa-ish lean to our liking and constructed a home around it anyway. Even when two stories of white siding were eventually standing, the bent oak still proudly out-towered everything around it.

That was 19 springs ago, and looking back, I realize this gentle giant was often a silent sufferer, even before we moved in and it bore the weight of a tire swing and escapist climbers. I learned of one instance of arbor abuse only recently.

“I took nails out of the carpenters’ guns and hammered them — probably a hundred — into the trunk,” a son confessed, expressing frustration that his efforts to make a swing from electrical wire never came to fruition. That crime would have been committed during construction, while we were living in a 28-foot travel trailer (all seven of us, including a newborn) shaded by upper extremities belonging to that poor trunk.   

Truth is, our stately oak was always more than a tree. Sometimes it was an airplane, when three or more climbed onto the lowest limb and took flight together. Once, the week of 9/11, it was tea room, with our kitchen table situated beneath its branches to hold petit fours and our oldest daughter’s seventh birthday wishes. For the sake of a fire safety merit badge, it was an officially-designated meeting spot, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge its service as home base for many, many games of tag.

Unfortunately, while we were putting down roots, the oak’s were slowly succumbing to time, gradually losing their grip underground. This extraordinary tree wouldn’t choose any regular day to make its exit, though, and certainly not a night when the whole scene might go unnoticed. No, it chose an Easter afternoon, a time when the whole family would be gathered and could acknowledge the event properly.

I was on the couch in a Cadbury egg stupor when someone rushed inside to tell me the earth was cracking wide open. “Yeah, right,” I said, rolling back over. “April Fool’s was last week, by the way.”

“I mean it, Mama,” she insisted, dragging me outside to the circular drive where I quickly became a believer. The earth was indeed cracking, and not only visibly — I could hear it, too. Seconds later, we watched our beloved tree suddenly and swiftly crash to the ground, taking a cedar and two pines with it.  Just moments earlier, Son No. 1 had wisely moved his car.

The fallen tree not only brought a sense of loss but a lot of mess as well. Its displaced trunk left a gaping hole, and limbs longer than the length of our house engulfed the yard. We finally required the services of a bulldozer to get it all cleaned up, and even now, its remaining roots are known to dull an Exmark’s blades.

My husband counted at least 85 rings at the oak’s base, so it’s possible we weren’t the first to flesh out a family tree under its protective covering. In the end, the tree’s final gift to us was three cords of wood used to fuel our fireplace that winter — that, and a tangible reminder that everything earthly eventually comes to an end.

Somehow, I doubt the new spread of Bermuda growing in its place will ever yield such a fitting Easter illustration.

Kim Henderson’s annual Easter column is reprinted from a previous edition of The Daily Leader. Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.