My mum Elizabeth is not as she seems. On the surface she appears to be a sensible, prim and rather opinionated lady. Her sense of what is right and what is wrong is voiced whenever she sees anything not as it should be. But underneath her desire to be virtuous, lurks a cheeky sense of humour.
Even though her short term memory is fading, she is a fund of funny stories from her past. One such tale revealed a naughty side to my mother. Wicked as well as hilarious.
George found this out to his surprise. Long had he complained about the outlook in front of his place. Many years ago, his home had looked out on fields full of trees and shrubs. This scene could have been beautiful except for one thing. A massive willow tree grew close to his fence and obscured most of his view. He grew to hate it. Its branches, leaves and sprawling root system, the way it shaded his front garden, and those darn leaves. It shed through autumn, winter and summer, creating a lot of work for him. The fact that it had become a sheltering mother to a vast population of birds did not relieve the angst caused by its presence. George, nor his visitors, could ever park their cars anywhere near it.
The years passed and a new housing development threatened to gobble up the entire area around George’s house. Initially the trees were chopped down and the land cleared. The willow stood its ground. Solitary and immovable, at least initially. George prayed he’d wake up one morning and find the tree gone. Every morning when he rose, the tree still stood in all its indestructible glory.
The town planners had worked out the locations of the new streets. Each section of land gradually transformed into newly constructed homes with newly laid lawn, shrubs, and paths and driveways adorned with flower beds. George resigned himself to the fact that his peace and quiet had disappeared for good. Once the initial construction moved further from his place, he decided he would enjoy watching the goings on in the neighborhood.
To his dismay, even after the area transformed into a sea of dwellings, every other tree in the area had been chopped down except for the obstruction in front of his house. The massive willow seemed to have been overlooked. His enquiries eventually led him to the City Council. He found out, to his dismay, that there had never been a plan to remove this tree. It had been deemed a heritage tree.
Then began his project. He scoured the bylaws for any phrase or clause whereby he could demand the removal of the tree. To no avail. Instead he read of what would happen if he in any way harmed, damaged or destroyed said tree.
In the meantime, he regularly updated his friend Elizabeth of where he was at, as far as the ongoing saga of his dissatisfaction over this awkward willow.
He didn’t see his friend Elizabeth for some time but when they met up the conversation turned again to the topic of the heritage tree.
George proudly announced the tree was dying. Everyone in the neighborhood was in dismay. The council had come along and examined it but nothing could be done. George looked particularly smug.
”George! You didn’t have anything a to do with it, did you.” Elizabeth looked horrified as she noted George’s triumph.
“What makes you think I did anything?”
“You don’t just look happy about it. You look like you’ve won the war but dishonestly. What did you do?”
“Elizabeth, we’re just too different. You’d never understand.”
“What? About staying a tree, breaking the law and all that?”
George looked at her sheepishly.
Elizabeth started to laugh until the tears sprung in her eyes.
“What’s so funny?” asked George, aggrieved. “What will you say about it?”
“Oh, don’t you worry about me, George. I’ll tell you a story . . .
“Once I had a problem with a birch tree outside my property. It grew on the berm outside my front fence. I hated the seeds it dropped. Those darn things blow everywhere. One day I noticed that one of the roots growing under my fence had actually been lifting it up. How dare it creep in under my fence like that, I thought. How dare it find its way into my garden and cause damage. I’m going to teach that creeping root a lesson. I’ll chop it off!”
“You didn’t,” said George.
“Now look who’s talking. The root was invading my property. My lawn mower didn’t like it either. It would have eventually destroyed my fence. Any invader of my property gets the chop.”
“Well, I suppose you’ve got a point. So, what did you do?”
“I got my saw and sawed through the root. Next, I hollowed out the part of the root still attached to the tree and poisoned it thoroughly with copper sulfate. Then I covered it up.”
George looked astounded. “You are as bad as me.”
“Is this a confession, George? Actually, we are not alike. That tree thought it could send its root under my fence and onto my property! I had every right to chop it off.”
“But to fill it with poison.”
“On my property, George. Remember it is my property. Actually, the story doesn’t end there.”
“What happened to the tree? Did it die?”
“Well in a way it did. It began to look very sorry for itself. I told a friend of mine about what I had done and she swore not to tell. She didn’t believe it would die from poison in one root. One day there was a massive storm and would you believe, the tree blew right over and blocked the whole street. I was so grateful there weren’t any parked cars or people underneath it when it happened.’
George let out a low whistle. “Roots are there to support trees, you know.”
“Yes. I knew it was my fault. All the neighbors were so surprised. It was hard not to appear guilty. It took a few days to clear up the mess.”
“You are wicked.” George shook his head and began to laugh.
Elizabeth still had a look of remorse. “Well George. What about your tree?”
“Oh, it will die alright” He announced this with a look of satisfaction.
“We’re a couple of tree slayers.”
“Partners in crime,” he said.
“That tree was creeping onto my property. I am within my rights to remove anything on my side of the fence.”
George chuckled. “I think the point you were trying to make is we are not so different from each other.”
“What did you do to your tree, George?”
He laughed again and became secretive. “I hollowed out several underground roots and filled them with a strong solution of salt water, when it became dark. I did it repeatedly, carefully covering them over each time. No one will ever know.”
“You do remember about it being a heritage tree?” Her eyes bored into him.
“Don’t you get all ‘holier than thou.’ We’re as bad as each other!”