Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Gladys Taber and Tree Cutters
Gladys Taber is an old writer and few will know or appreciate her anymore. I met her in the column "Butternut Wisdom" that she wrote for Family Circle magazine in the 60's. She wrote about the simple and bucolic life of living in the country raising dogs and kids during the first half of the 20th century. My grandmother loved her works, and I learned to love them too. My mother-in-law also followed her work, and we often shared Taber books. It was our practice to reread one during the winter months while confined inside by winter weather with books and a cup of hot tea. Although the winter has been mild, I decided to keep the tradition.
I pulled Stillmeadow Calendar off the shelf, a book that recounts a year of life in the Connecticut Valley where Taber lived in an farmhouse built in the 1700's. In June of that year, Taber had the tree men out to trim and save the old oaks and maples that were on her property, ones planted by the original owner two hundred years earlier. She said this about tree men: "Tree men are very special people. They are hard-muscled, slim-hipped, and weathered. They speak of a tree as if it were a person."
That description reminded me so much of my own tree man, Dewey. He is hard-bodied even in his 70's, still scurries up trees, is slim-hipped, and with skin weathered to a the warm hue of a light pecan shell. He is Ozarks all the way with his slow speech, easy stance, hands on hips or maybe shoved in his back jeans pockets. His blue eyes, still the shade of glistening sapphire crystals, are shaded by a workman's cap. He comes when called but on his own schedule. He cocks one long leg with a slight bend, stares at the tree in need like a cowboy wrangler pondering the cutting of a steer from the herd. His face shows the question, how ornery will this beast be? Soon he quotes a fair price, hands are shook, and a deal is made.
When we first moved to our ranch-styled home, trees and limbs were broken and piled after a record breaking ice storm. We hired a part-time tree cutter who was not Dewey to trim up the maple tree still standing. He made decisions we still pay for today years later. Later by the time the big oak and a couple of maples needed help, we learned of Dewey. When the beloved huge maple that covered the children's sand box, shaded the tree house, and finally was so large it could no longer be climbed by boys' legs became diseased, Dewey was the one who laid the tree to rest.
There are additional perks to hiring Dewey for work. One is he can tell great stories! Also he or his crew clean up after the job is done. They do the best they can to leave the yard clean and ready to go. In this day and age, that is worth something. While DH is the main worker here (and we all know who cleans up after husbands), we have had one bathroom floor laid and the worker left a smear of glue on the back of the door that is still there today. A roofer secretly smoked in our attic, leaving cigarette butts on old wooden rafters for DH to find much later. No, you can count on Dewey to straighten up your yard at best he can.
About a year ago, Dewey came to trim the northern oak away from the roof. The tree is scary because it is so big, but we gamble that winds will not bury us under its limbs some spring night. This time Dewey brought his grandson along who is now his helper. The young man happened to have been a student of mine once, and I was glad to see him. Ken was a sturdier version of Dewey with brown eyes like serious, dark pools. He listened to his grandpa and did a good deal of the work. In time he will also make a good tree man, what Taber calls "a very special person", one just like Dewey.