TODAY, MY FRIENDS, I must write about my two oldest friends, and I will begin with my oldest one, my tree!
I wish I could hug my tree today, but I cannot. I loved my tree — did I ever tell you that? Or let me put it this way — we loved each other.
We had known each other, after all, for forty-six years. Now we’d had some little ups and down, nothing serious. In the shadow of my tree I couldn’t grow any marigolds or petunias, and sometimes I complained, but not often, because I loved my tree’s shadow, too.
We were always aware of each other. Certainly in summer. In summer my great oak tree was always there for me, everywhere in the yard I turned, there was my tree. When I read at my dining room table and raised my head to the big windows, there was my tree.
My tree had been abused once quite seriously — before we knew each other. My tree grew near the street, under the power lines, and the evil power company had sheared off its head. It had literally removed a whole side of my tree’s crown. Yet my tree had not died; it had grown a new head out of its injured crown. The new head had veered off to one side, however, as it grew, so my tree had a vicious gap in the middle of its crown. Yet as I have said, my tree was a loved tree, and it still had a gorgeous canopy, if a slightly interrupted one.
In summer this canopy cooled the whole yard and the front rooms of the house, and in winter we felt my tree stood a lonely guard over house and yard and took on itself the brunt of the ice and snow.
Then my tree died. Not a natural death, my friends — no, no. My tree was murdered — didn’t you hear?
EARLY ONE MORNING in springtime, a certain company arrived at our house. We had hired this company to install a walkway in our backyard; we had not asked it to repair the slightly tilted sidewalk beside our friend, the tree. But the company made a tragic mistake that day. It thought it had come to repair the raised walk.
That morning I woke up to hear jack-hammering out my front window. What is that? I asked myself. A road repair? I got up and went to the window. What!? I cried. I threw on my robe and ran downstairs and out the front door. “Stop!” I cried. “What are you doing? Stop that!”
Too late. The Death Squad had done its heinous work. One huge yellow root of my tree lay exposed among the shards of concrete. Such a round, healthy root! Beautiful!
A neighbor came out to look. She loved my tree’s canopy, too, and she said to the killing squad, “You cover that root back up — just cover it right back up!” So the company called its friend, the Urban Forester. He came at once and professed to examine the great elephant toes of my tree’s trunk. “This tree will have to die,” he said. “See the rot down here?” We did not see any rot, and we knew he was colluding with the paving firm.
“That tree was old,” the company explained to me the next day.
“Yes,” I said, “and I, too, am old — should I be jack-hammered to death one morning . . . ?”
The Story of Lucy-Dog
I’LL BE ON AND ON about death today, my friends, for I have lost not only my tree, but my dear doggie as well. A month after my tree died, my beautiful black lab of seventeen years was taken from me as well. The gods of family life were jealous, I believe, of my relationships.
Lucy-dog died at home. She had been ill for only a week, no longer much interested in our daily walks, though late in the cool of the day, we would still go out for a breath of air. For a few blocks she would sniff along the curb and more or less investigate the territory for me, and then she would be satisfied that things were all right out there, as if to say, as I later imagined it, “Martha, you’ll be fine on this street when I’m gone.”
One night we were visiting with neighbors in our front yards. We didn’t want our dog to be lonely, so we helped her struggle outside. She lay down in the neighbors’ front yard and could not rise. Eventually we were able to help her back to our front door. She lay down in her favorite place on the living room carpet, and that evening I stroked her head and murmured loving words to her.
I went to bed, and when I got up in the morning, Lucy was not breathing. I lifted up her head and stroked her old black nose, just to remember what that was like. I made myself cups of tea, and for hours I simply left her that way, so I could look at her and enjoy her company once more. Then I called the vet, and she told me what to do. My husband had flown off on a trip early that morning, but I wrapped the body of my dog in an old sheet, and the daughter of a neighbor helped me move her to the hatch of our van.
I drove to the pet hospital, where I could leave my girl’s body for cremation. A young assistant came out to the van to help, and when I pulled back the sheet, she said, ”Oh, what a beautiful dog!” My dog had not lost, you see, the trim, artistic shape she had always had.
I felt somehow closer to death that day — to the phenomenon of death — than I ever had before.
IT WAS MY DAUGHTER Paige who had cared for Lucy-dog most of her doggie life. She had gone camping with the family over and over again. My granddaughter Ellen says she would go down by the river and run over the fields, but she never ran off. “All we had to do was call! She loved our camping trips!”
As just a young girl, Lucy had been a stray. She had hung out on a street where Paige lived, and one day she asked the kids whose dog she was. “Nobody’s dog,” they said, but that people fed her at times and made friends with her.
Paige wasn’t looking for a dog, but she she took Lucy in. She looked like a pure black lab, but at the vet’s they said she was part pit-bull! Imagine that. When Paige learned from me of Lucy’s death, Ellen said, she was cleaning out a closet, and she began to cry. When she had moved back to Cincinnati a few years ago, she had not found an apartment where she could keep a dog, and Lucy had stayed at my house. I was Lucy’s grandmother.
I AM NOT MOZART, but I wish I could compose a beautiful requiem, a Requiem Aeternam, for these two old friends of mine. May eternal rest be granted them, O Lord, and perpetual light shine upon them.
Let us all give to the poor in their holy names. ##