grows in Brooklyn

“We got a tree!” Michael said when he first saw it, sticking his head way out the window of our living room to view the scraggly, adolescent thing below, just ten feet tall, it’s branches too thin, baking in the summer sun.  It didn’t look like the sort of tree that could necessarily survive the summer.

When a new tree is planted in this city, it is beloved by the whole neighborhood. Trees are not taken for granted here, but are welcomed and tagged.  They are the subject of  sidewalk conversations with the neighbors and much inspection.

And on one misty and drizzly day, when the world had that brown and blue hue particular to mid-summer,  we took it upon ourselves to put up a dog fence around our tree and plant some flowers under it.  That day, our neighborhood played a scene that could have been on Sesame Street.

Next-door-Sue’s eyes got dewy when she saw us working in the rain, and she went upstairs and brought down some fertilizer from her apartment. Upstairs Tom said that he’d make sure that no one would throw trash on it. “Because as soon as people see any trash, the think it’s ok to throw their own down.”

 Downstairs Bernadette offered to keep it watered regularly.  Some lady walking her dog helped me carry the soil from the store down the block.  Next-door-Kim lent me her shovel and next door-Richard let Michael use his circ-saw to cut the boards for the fence. Then Old-Michael from next door - still struggling to walk after his stroke - brought out a chair, sat down and held court: “Don’t worry about the back, bring them all to the front,” he directed, gesturing at the flowers.  Richard dragged out a bucket of soil from his own garden in back.  The super from the building to the left of us caught me worrying over the little shoots and said, “Don’t worry, it will grow, it will grow.  But you need to extend the fence to the back to keep the dogs out.”

All afternoon and into the evening, everyone walking by stopped and smiled and said, “Nice work!  Beautiful garden!” with the same sweet face that they would give to a new baby in a good mood; until, by the end of the day, as we cleaned up in the dark, I was convinced that this little corner of Brooklyn was the best place on earth.

A week later, Deborah from downstairs said to me, “I caught a woman letting her dog pee on that tree, and I let her have it!  Unacceptable!”

That was last summer.  Our little tree survived.  It grew taller.  It thickened out a bit.  I’ve thought about pulling some branches off it to decorate our marriage canopy, but I think it’s still too thin for that.  I’d rather that it just keep on growing.


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