Life with Liz: The giving tree
Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” is the saddest book I’ve ever read. I don’t remember reading it as a child. Maybe the first time I read it was when I was working as a baby sitter or some other activity that had me delving into children’s books as an older teenager or young adult.
All of my children received that book as a gift, and I don’t think I tried more than once or twice to read it to them, but since I choke up and sob at the end, they quickly learned not to ask mom to read “the tree” book. This week, I had to say goodbye to my own version of the giving tree.
Truth be told, the tree in question, an old black walnut tree in the backyard, has become more of a “taking tree.” It is quite large, and quite old, and it has quite a few dead limbs on it. The Wonderful Husband has been able to take a few of them off before they fell and caused damage to the house or the neighboring barn, but the remaining ones are not going to come down safely without the help of a professional.
The tree is so large that it hangs over a large portion of the roof, continually clogging up gutters with its leaves, and after years of the walnuts falling off the tree and hitting the house, it has caused some superficial damage. It needs to go before it causes more.
Finally, part of it hangs over the patio where we have the grill and the picnic table set out and where we settle down to enjoy the evening hours after a hard day of work. This time of year, leaves are constantly fluttering into our food, and walnuts are frequently pinging us in the head. We’ve also noticed that a colony of chipmunks has taken up residence in the bottom of the tree, so we suspect that the base of the tree may also be a lot less stable than it should be. There is no denying that the tree needs to come down on our terms, before it comes down on its own.
But I’m struggling with turning it into a stump. Aside from the fact that this tree has just always been there, there was the one time that our pig fell into the well, and the tree was literally the linchpin that helped rescue her. The tree sits right next to the hole in the ground where the pump housing sits. Typically, it has a solid cover over it, but my dad had been doing some maintenance on it, and for whatever reason, there was just a piece of plywood covering the hole.
At the time, I had a pet pig, Petunia, who weighed in at about 600 pounds. Petunia had had a bit of a rough start in life and ended up orphaned. I fed her with a bottle, milking the goats every morning, and then feeding her. Eventually Petunia and I figured out that I could just put the goats up on the milk stand, and she could just help herself to the milk source and eliminate the middleman. The goats were not necessarily pleased at this turn of events, but eventually they gave up the fight. At any rate, this turned into a routine. Petunia would follow me around as I completed my chores every morning and evening.
As she got older, and much larger, she spent more time in her pen, but I would still let her out to “play” while I did my chores. One bright sunny morning, after a good snowfall, she was romping in the snow and having such a good time that I didn’t feel right locking her back up in her pen. My mom and I left to run errands for the day, and when we returned later that afternoon, we were surprised by the fountain of water shooting up behind the barn. The only one more surprised was my poor piggy, who was butt end in the hole in the ground, on top of the pump, getting a freezing cold shower. Apparently, she had frolicked right on top of the plywood, which wasn’t strong enough to support her, and down she went.
My father just happened to be butchering other pigs with another neighbor farmer, and let me tell you, that was a phone call he never forgot getting.
“Dad, you have to come home, the pig is in the well!” By the time my dad and the other farmer got there, evening was upon us and the temperatures were dropping. The water which had gushed out of the pump was now freezing on the ground, freezing on the pig, and freezing on me. I had jumped down in the well with her. My dad, using the old walnut tree to rig up a pulley system, and his pickup, managed to hoist her up in the air, out of the well. The next step involved swinging her back and forth and releasing the tension on the pulley at just the right time to land her squarely on the ground. It was quite an acrobatic feat, and as soon as she hit the ground, she high-tailed it back into her pen, burrowed beneath the straw, and didn’t come out until the next morning.
I got a lecture in responsible pig ownership, and on the dangers of electric pumps and water, and why we shouldn’t jump into a pit with an electric pump that is full of water. But, in the end, we all lived happily ever after. My dad left the pulley system attached to the tree for quite a while after that, “just in case.” I think it was also a daily reminder to me not to treat my 600-pound pet like the lap dog she thought she was.
Petunia is long gone, passing away peacefully in her sleep the night I came home from spring break during my freshman year of college, after we’d said our goodbyes. My dad has been gone for a few years, now, too. The tree and I were the last ones standing, and soon, it will just be me. The WH thinks I’m more than a little off my rocker, crying over a tree that has caused him so many headaches, but, much like The Giving Tree, he’s been thinking of ways we can turn lumber from the tree into something that will be a part of our family forever, maybe some bookshelves, where I can keep my copies of “The Giving Tree.”
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.