"Love or something damn near like it's got a hold on me."- K. Rogers, S. Glassmeyer
"Wow, it's 7:15 already. I have no idea where this day went." he said to himself. He was tired, work was grueling, and he just wanted to forget about the day, even if only for a few minutes. He had just slammed the microwave door shut and with dinner in hand, he reached for the remote and turned the television set on, when the doorbell rang. He opened the front door and found two strangers. "Hi..my name is Carly and this is my daughter, Taylor. We live down the street from you, about 8 houses down, towards Royal Lane." she said, as she thrust her hand out towards him. The pushy confidence in her hand-shaking gesture did not disguise the nervousness in her voice. Her daughter, impeccably dressed and radiant, smiled shyly.
"We love the tree in your front yard. When it blooms, it's the highlight of my year. Is it okay if I snap a few pictures?" as she waved the camera she held in her hand.
It had been a long, hard day at work and all he wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and get lost for a little while. In his mind, he shouted, "Yes, you are bothering me...GO AWAY!" But he didn't, as the right thing to do would be to stand here, smile, be neighborly, even if he didn't really feel like it. Her voice broke into his thoughts, "It's Taylor's prom tonight and I wanted to take a picture of her in front of the tree. Is that okay? I promise we'll only be a few minutes."
"This tree? This frumpy, old lady-like tree? Is this some kind of a prank?" he asked himself. He looked to the street and then, to his left and right but he didn't see signs of a hidden camera. No one had ever just shown up at his door, to take pictures of his property. He didn't like the tree and he didn't like how it blocked the view of his beautiful home from the street. As a matter of fact, the son of a colleague at work had started a Tree Service business and he had already scheduled to have him cut and remove the tree next week. He hated that tree.
Something was wrong and she knew she had something to do with it. Maybe, the giveaway was the remote control that he held in his hand. So, she asked him, "You know, I never even bothered to ask you if this was a good time or not." and without even pausing for his answer, she continued, "I have the sinking feeling that we are bothering you but we knew the previous owner of your home and he let us take our family photos every year, right under this tree. We have a bunch of photos, just about every kind of family event you can think of, standing in front of this tree. This tree has been a good friend to my family. She has always been there in the background, keeping time for us." she explained and then asked, "where you from?"
He shook his mind back to the present moment and this most annoying woman. For a second, he thought of excusing himself and heading back inside. She was starting to ask too many personal questions and he didn't like that.
"Tacoma." he answered.
"You mean clear across the country, like in Washington state, T-a-c-o-m-a?" she asked.
"Yup, that's the place." he said. "I work for Allied Chemical and I was transferred to the plant just down the road, about 4 months ago."
"Oh, I know Allied. My second cousin works there. In Engineering. Do you know him? His name is Marshall, Marshall Thomas. He's a nice guy, about your age. Have you got any family? A wife? Kids? A dog maybe?" she asked.
"My brother still lives in Tacoma. He's the only family I have now."
"Oh....you know, the couple who owned this home raised 6 kids here. They were a very loving family. Just beautiful people. Married for almost 40 years. We really loved them. Most of their kids have moved away, to follow careers and build families somewhere else. What a shame. They had a daughter, Lena, who still lived at home. The husband died of a heart attack and with him gone, well, it was too much house for his wife. So, she bought a much smaller place, about 15 minutes west of here. I get to see her at church on Sundays but we still miss them. The tree is all we have now, to remind us of them and what is really possible, through love. All of us try to be just like them. Their memory pushes us to be better people." she explained.
He sighed a deep sigh and silently wished that she would take her damn picture and go home, so he could enjoy his nuked Salisbury steak dinner and watch tv. All of this talking made him feel uncomfortable. He had left Tacoma looking for a new life and had left more than a few people disappointed.
"Mom, we have got to go. Chris will be here any minute to pick me up with Shelly and Mike. I can't be late for my own prom!" cried a suddenly anxious-looking Taylor.
"Oh, sorry baby. Well, it was very nice to meet you...what did you say your name is?" asked Carly.
"I didn't. Paul...my name is Paul...Paul Robbins." he said. "Nice to meet you." he said, as he faked a smile and thought to himself, "I hope you don't make it a habit to ring my doorbell at dinnertime."
"Thanks for letting me know about the tree. I was planning to have a tree service come out on Monday and cut it down."
Carly stopped dead in her tracks and wheeled around to look at him, her piercing eyes radiating confusion and anger.
"You did WHAT?"
"I wanted to change things up a bit. The tree blocks the view of the street, from inside the house. I like to be able to see farther from my window. With the tree gone, I'll be able to see the ocean now." he explained. "It's a beautiful view. That's why I bought this house."
"Now hold on just a second Mister..." but before she could finish, Taylor shouted,
"I'm coming honey!" she replied and with a new found desperation, she grabbed his arm and said, "Please Paul, don't cut it down. This tree means a lot to many people in this neighborhood. It means alot to me, to my family. We all feel the same way about it...PLEASE!" she begged him, as she let go of his arm and walked to her car.
He was sorry that he had mentioned anything to Carly. He didn't want to be "chummy-chummy" with his neighbors but he didn't want to be disliked or even, hated. He turned around to walk back into his house, as he heard the car pull away. He didn't feel much like eating anymore. He walked over to the tree, stuck his hands in his pockets and let out a long and deep sigh. Six kids...wow. He thought about what Carly had just told him. He imagined the husband, tending to his lawn, his gardens, his tree...his family. He wanted to make sure that his home was beautiful and special, for his wife and kids, because he really loved them. What must it be like to possess this much love? For anyone? The house was about 30 years old and the tree must have been purchased soon after the house was built. He could almost imagine the couple, at the nursery, picking the tree and coming home to plant it in their front lawn. The tree blossomed from the love and attention it received, just as the family blossomed over the years; a mirror image in the physical world, of the love that binds a family together and the power that love has, in making lives more beautiful. He thought about it as the setting sun bathed the front of the house in light, intensifying the color of the blossoms and casting a pink glow over everything. He looked around him and said, "Oh my, this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!" It took his breath away. If it wasn't for Carly and her daughter, he would have missed this extraordinary moment. "You know, it's not a bad looking tree, now that I really am looking at it." he said out loud. He smiled and shook his head, 'okay, okay, you win. I'll call them in the morning and cancel the appointment." He shut the door behind him, as he turned the television set on.