A Death in the Family

When I was twenty, I imagined I was all grown up and ready to plan the rest of my life. Even if I had had a clue about what I would want for the rest of my life, planning wasn’t my strong suit…and still isn’t. I met a boy who made me laugh, who could sing like Paul McCartney, and who was a Democrat. I married him while we were both children, he was 21 going on 15. I was young and dumb but far more responsible.

I parlayed his CalVet loan into a modest house in a diverse neighborhood that consisted mostly of older people who had built the homes they lived in. The house we bought had been built by the uncle of the next door neighbor. Decades later, when my present husband remodeled the kitchen, we found scrawled inside the wall, “Lois begain(sic) his house 1940”.

And so, we were able to guess that the two Chinaberry trees in the front yard had probably been planted before the end of World War II.

Little Tree
The bigger tree that shaded the driveway

Over the last forty-seven years, husbands have come and gone, but year after year these stoic trees added to their girth as they sheltered my yard and house from the relentless afternoon sun. Their lavender blossoms carpeted my driveway in spring and sent my allergies into high gear. Their arching branches provided a safe refuge for cats, raccoons, and opossums escaping marauding dogs and coyotes. Birds of a feather flocked together in the cool canopy of lacy leaves. And each fall I cursed them as they covered the lawn in leaves, and then sticks and berries. All trees are messy but these took mess to new heights.

My mom, always the practical one, advised me, year after year to take them out before they damaged the house and each year I would have them trimmed instead, loath to give up the glorious shade they provided.

BUT, a few days ago I noticed a faint whiff of sewage coming from the kitchen septic tank. Thinking the filter had gotten clogged, Mike went out and drained the tank and cleaned it thoroughly. But then he noticed that there was standing water where there should not be standing water. Excavation revealed that the leach pit was full and there was standing water in the leach line. A bit of online research revealed that this particular tree was not only invasive above ground but they were also an anathema to underground plumbing.

Making the decision to remove my eighty-year old trees felt like deciding to put down a beloved pet. Mike and I were both sick to our stomach with dread, but eventually came to the understanding that we had no choice.

The stumps stand in mute agony…or do I anthropomorphize?

Tomorrow the tree cutters will come to remove the stumps and we will begin the adjustment that follows every change in life. Everything we know is ephemeral but trees always seem symbolic of permanence, especially when their presence has been a part of one’s life from brash youth to maturity.

So, to Lois, who begain his house in 1940, I say thank you for your foresight…but next time please pick trees with less invasive root systems.

18 thoughts on “A Death in the Family

  1. Sorry, we didn’t actually cut down the tree at that time, we were just thinking about it. That was sad enough. Its mate, another ash infected by the ash borer, had succumbed the year before and required removal.


    1. We perseverated about removing just the one closest to the kitchen leach system, but then decided that the tree on the north side jeopardized both the bathroom system and the one next door. And then we wondered if the only thing keeping those old leach fields working was the active root system of that tree. The hardest part about making the decision was that there were so many unknowns. It’s another case of “too soon old; too late wise”.
      When you do have to take your remaining ash tree down, you may count on my sympathy.


  2. You needed to put those wonderful trees down, Judy, because of their roots . I understand this since my neighbour had a walnut tree whom the root invaded my veggie garden . It was impossible to keep it.
    We had also in our yard a maple tree that was there before we bought the house (1986) . It was become a giant and dangerous for another neighbour’s roof. . All of the family loved this tree . We had to cut it also some years ago. Now this looks empty. Less of birds around.
    I share your sadness about those trees.
    Love ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh man! I was already unhappy when I heard that the china berry trees had to come down. Then you had to go and post pictures and tell their story. Now you have me sitting here with tears running all over the place. They were probably planted the same year I was born. Don’t send those guys with chain saws over here!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love a good tree and a good man although sometimes they do not mix. I accept all trees be they oak, or other trees as I accept all types of personalities and keep secret if I have to chop a favorite tree down. Root rut happens to the best of us.


  5. Judy this is so sad. We had to cut down our Maple tree in the front many years ago – it was sick and yet I had hoped it would pull through. It wasn’t to be… I mourned that tree as it was big and in the fall it would be every color and shade from vivid red to fluorescent yellow. *sigh*


    1. It is a comfort to know that there are others who share and understand how traumatic this has been. At this stage, I’m trying to think of all the things I won’t miss about those two messy giants. Unfortunately, we are still having temps in the high 90s which only serve to make me miss the shade.


  6. Loved every bit of this post: clever title,
    anthropomorphic photography, the history of the house and of your own many lives intertwined with the house. The tree will be missed, but the house is the soul of the property and to be saved.


    1. Yes, the house is sturdy and has enjoyed many renovations over the years. The way 2020 has been unfolding, I fully expect “the big one” (we are only a couple of miles from the San Andreas fault) sometime soon too. The house will probably fall off its foundation but Mike assures me that he can jack it up and fix all the cracked stonework inside. When you think life is difficult, all you have to do is imagine something worse and console yourself with, “At least I don’t have THAT!”


  7. The photos do convey the stark reality of the world we live in. We do remove what comes in the way of our lives, don’t you/ Your beautifully articulated post does leave a lump inside the stomach.



    1. You’re right about how we make our environment conform to our needs and it’s not always to our long term benefit. When I think about how those trees contributed to the air quality, I feel guilty all over again about selfishly taking them down. I’m already planning their replacements.


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