“The preacher came and looked on sadly,
“The tree was hopeless he could see.”
Okay, that’s stealing a bit from an old country song, but sitting here and looking across the patio at the stump of a once beautiful maple tree leaves me with a heavy heart.
The “preacher” was/is Jesse Barksdale and when he’s not tending the flock at Cedar Springs Baptist Church, he’s out there as a “treeterinarian,” which is a long respected (if not recognized) profession for those who take care of trees.
Over the years, Rev. Barksdale has earned his doctorate in tree medicine by keeping my maple tree alive. But the end came back in February when Dr. Barksdale came, looked up at decaying limbs threatening the house, and said:
“It hurts to tell you this, but your maple tree is in the throes of death. I’ll get my crew over here this afternoon to take if off life support and I’ll be by later to administer last rites.”
Well, maybe those aren’t his exact words, but a couple of hours later a huge bucket truck backed into the drive. One man went up in the bucket with a chain saw, two others lowered the chain saw results to the ground and took them to the truck (I almost said “hearse”).
I stood a safe distance with a box of Kleenex in hand and watched “Roger’s Tree” pass into history. I also made four pictures (with my smart phone) of the stages shutting down of the tree’s life support.
An explanation will let you know why the maple was (still is) a part of the Smith family’s heart.
Roger Clay Smith was our second born. We lost him in 1983, just days after he finished his sophomore year at Alabama. The cause of his going away at such a young age was phlebitis.
But 20 years before that, while he was holding to the rails of his playpen in the back yard, I set out the maple. The two, in an old picture we have somewhere, were about the same height. The tree became Roger’s tree.
The old maple, at death, was near a half-century old, its growing shade covering countless memories of family gatherings, of friends visiting, of happy times and sad ones, too. We celebrated the good and mourned the bad.
We mourned my mother under that tree, my father, too. And a sister lost in a automobile accident at age 20. Her name was Margaret, a dark-haired beauty who found great joy in being an aunt to our oldest son Barry. A few aunts and uncles and cousins are on that list.
There were others who came. A few were famous.
Richard Petty once ate a hamburger and drank a glass of ice tea beneath its shade. On more than one occasion Buddy Baker would show up for a country supper, cornbread, blackeyed peas, and a beverage not approved by the Baptists down the road.
I know that’s name-dropping, but it does date back to the 20 years I was a sports writer for this newspaper.
Charley Pell, a head coach at Jax State, Clemson, and Florida came often. As did one of my closest friends in the toy shop, JSU head coach Clarkie Mayfield.
Mainly, I appreciate the Rev./Dr. Jesse Barksdale for all those good times in the latter days of the old maple’s life.
I’m not sure when I called Rev. Barksdale to take the case after a few years of listening to others tell me “the end is coming.” But I knew he was needed.
I do know that one spring, he bored a batch of holes in the ground and fed the tree. That summer it just about returned to its earlier grandeur.
Another time he brought in the big bucket and removed dead limbs. Yet another time he showed up with long cables that his “surgery” team wrapped around the larger limbs to protect the roof of our house.
Then came early February. High winds were in the forecast. I looked at the tree, called Rev/Dr. Barksdale and he . . .
“Came and looked on sadly.”
The old maple came down that afternoon. The next day I sat in my barn and looked at the stump of Roger’s maple tree.
Then I looked at the photos on my “smart phone” and hit the delete button.
Without the photos, I can remember the good years, ignore the bad. I’m thankful for the delete button on my “smart” phone . . .
With that “It-means-nothing-to-anyone-but-me” essay, get up and let’s go to church . . .