They cut down the old oak tree today. It was an enormous tree. One of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
I was on my walking route when I heard the chainsaws running. I stood by the curb and watched the young worker crawl up the trunk and take it down from top to bottom.
They scaled it like trapeze artists, swinging from limbs with chainsaws strapped over their shoulders.
There was an old man by the street, with his dog on a leash. He was watching. He was stock still.
“That tree’s been here a long time,” he said. “It was here since my parents were babies.”
“You know this tree?”
He nodded. “My mother grew up beneath that tree. She rocked me to sleep underneath that tree when I was born. We used to live in this house. A long, long time ago.”
Another nod. “Used to sit underneath that tree with my grandparents. They used to visit us all the time. My granddaddy showed me how to polish my own shoes under that tree. Do kids still polish their shoes?”
“No, sir. I don’t think they do.”
He smiles mournfully. “Well, we used to. My granddaddy was a World-War-I guy, kept his shoes polished to a mirror finish. He’s dead now.”
The old man sighed.
“Granddaddy only came to one of my baseball games in his whole life, because he grew up in Walker County. He was from the country. He grew up hard, he didn’t even know how baseball was played.”
The top of the tree fell. The green wood cracked loudly. And I could not help but feel like the world was losing something important.
The young treemen were attacking the fallen logs with chainsaws as though the logs had insulted their mother.
“A rope swing used to hang on that tree,” said the old man. My mom used to swing on it. My last memory of her is swinging on that swing before she died.”
“How’d she die?”
“Pneumonia. Always had lung problems. The pneumonia finally took her.”
“Yeah. Long time ago.”
Another section of the mighty oak fell. The old man winced when the enormous trunk hit the earth with a hard impact.
I am perplexed why homeowners in Birmingham are always cutting down enormous, 150-year-old, healthy trees. Is it an aesthetic thing? Do some people just hate trees? If so, maybe these people should consider moving to, say, the Sahara desert.
This month alone, I have counted five gigantic local trees that have been cut down. It makes no sense.
“When I was in high school,” he said, “my date met me beneath that tree.”
“Is that right?”
“She was from a rich family. I was kinda poor. I was so nervous. I wore a hand-painted tie, and my shoes were shined up good.”
The young men cut another section of the tree. The tree was only half stature now.
“I treated my date like she was the queen of England herself. She wore a white dress, with all sorts of pink flowers on it. I gave her a corsage. I put in on her. She put one on me. We felt so grown up. So adult.”
“How did the prom go?”
He smiled. “I married her.”
“You have any kids?”
“Three. I used to take them for walks to see this tree.”
Finally, the owner of the home approached us. He was a young man. He came out of his home, wearing an asymmetrical modern haircut. He wore modern clothes.
He saw us standing by the curb, and he evidently didn’t like us standing there.
“Can I help you?” said the owner.
“Why are you cutting down that old tree?” said the old man gently.
The young man looked at the old man with a smirk. The young man was either amused by this question or really ticked off. It was hard to tell which.
“I cut this tree down because it’s mine,” the young man spat. “I can do whatever I want. It’s my [expletive] house.”
The old man nodded. He smiled politely. He apologized for making the kid so angry.
The young man cordially asked us to get off his lawn.
I saw the old man walk away with his dog. But he looked shorter, somehow.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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