Bing was the first one to come over . He stood a ways off and stared . I had the main branches down by then .
” I remember when Greta planted that tree , ” he said . ” It’s a beautiful tree .”
Don from two doors down came over next . ” What are you cutting the tree down for ? ” he asked in unpolished tones of indictment . ” I remember when she planted that tree . Got it at the Arboretum .”
I was being put on the spot . Ada and I were new to the neighborhood . We’d been there almost three years but Bing had been there almost fifty and Don longer than that . They had raised kids there who had long since grown up and moved away . The two old men were watching me chop up the old tree that the former owner had planted decades ago .
“Greta loved that tree ,” Bing said .
” It’s a magnificent tree , ” I began , appeasingly . ” Beautiful pink flowers that look like orchids . But look at these roots .” I showed them the thick roots that were raising the driveway , that grew under the concrete walkway to the front door , and that were growing under the foundation of the house . ” If it wasn’t for these roots , ” I said . “But they’ll begin raising the foundation like they’re raising the driveway . Look. ”
” Sure did a job on the driveway ,” Don said .
” Can’t have roots under the foundation ,” Bing said .
” Otherwise I’d keep the tree , ” I said . ” But look at those roots !”
” I got an axe you can borrow , ” Don said .
” How you gonna cut them roots ? ” Bing asked . His tone had changed . Now we had a neighborhood project . Rex the retired teacher emerged from the house next door . He was carrrying a pick .
” You’re gonna have ta get the dirt completely off the roots so’s ya don’t get dirt caught in the saw teeth ,” Rex said . He stood there on the lawn with the other two men and watched me work . They all had bits of advice .
Ada was watching from the window . When I came in , eventually , she said that she’s seen my crowd of admirers . I told her that some guys are chick magnets but I ‘m a geezer magnet .
Finally I got the tree out but most of the thick roots are still there under the lawn and under the driveway and under the concrete walkway . The silk floss tree with its flowers and its thorns is gone but I remember it fondly . It was a great tree . Bing is gone , now , and Rex too . Don , who turned ninety in August , still offers to lend me tools and we have a beer together from time to time and we chat . The roots of those guys , too , will still be in the neighborhood long after they’re gone .
Ada planted rose bushes where the old tree used to be and when the roses are in flower in their brilliant reds and pinks and yellows and whites all the neighborhood geezers would admire the magnificence of the new blooms instead of lamenting the silk floss tree’s demise .