I hold a small black and white snapshot in my hand.There is no date on the back but the words written stay with me."Aunt Kate,Al and the old Beech.Gone forever."The Kate was my grandmother's sister and Al was my father at age 7 or so.This picture was taken in 1914 or there abouts. I never knew Kate but I know that she died before my grandmother and left her enough money to buy the country house in the Catskills.
I have wondered often about that old Beech.Why was it mentioned along with the family members?What hold did it have on the family whose yard it grew in but is no more?Gone forever.
We have beeches in our woods behind the house.In winter, they are the only identifiable trees as they are marcescents,they keep their leaves ,losing them only when new sprouts push them off the branches.They have smooth grey trunks.A perfect tree for carving initials.Is that why the Wantagh Beech died?
I have an old copy of a book published in 1945,"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". The torn cover shows a tenement in Brooklyn and I will not recycle it at Goodwill.The novel tells the story of one young Francis Nolan and ,as I read her story later in my life, I knew that she and I were sisters.She grew up in a poverty that I didn't know but with her alcoholic father and escape into books,I had found my childhood essence.Her trips to the holy temple of the library were my own..".and there on the librarian's desk was a brown chipped pot with bright orange and red nasturtiums. "
Do librarians have any idea that they are a beacon for a lonely,troubled child?That under a small girl's arm is hope in a brown bag?Smile, at your desk, you have been given a great privilege.
The trees that grew so lushly in Brooklyn in 1914 were called the Tree of Heaven,Ailanthus Altissma.I am sure the altissma means high because this tree grew to heights of over 80 feet .Francie was shaded by one while she read her books in the summer on the fire escape.It grew without help ,seemingly without much of anything and only in the tenement district.Pure gift while everything else was such a struggle.
The tan/copper leaves of the Beeches in my woods provide cover for songbirds and small mammals in the winter when the woods have opened up.It is a great wood for benches.I wonder if the Long Island Beech was used for any of these things or burned in a hard New York winter.Gone forever.
"A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it then it had started to grow towards the sky again....this tree in the yard -this tree that men had chopped down,this tree that they built a bonfire around,trying to burn the stump-this tree had lived".Betty Smith