The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree on Vimeo.

It’s difficult to imagine our backyard without this particular willow tree, but all living things must come to an end. The large willow tree has withstood harsh winters, aphid infestations, and drought over a period of approximately 40 years. The wondrous willow has provided shade, branches for children to climb on, nesting places for numerous species of birds, and majestic beauty for our neighbourhood.

Our family has fond memories and considerable sentiment for this willow tree, it’s removal bringing literal tears to my wife’s eyes. To a tree removal crew, it is just a tree. To us, the willow represents several generations of laughter and joy in our family. I can still picture our eldest daughter at 14 years-of-age, perched on a rather precarious branch, reading a good novel while sheltered from the glaring sun, our youngest shouting out with joy as she swung on the hammock fastened between two large branches, our small Shih Tzu, “Missy” getting her leash all tangled up around the trunk, looking rather sheepish and helpless.

With this in mind, it is time to say a heartfelt goodbye to an old friend who gave us more than we could possibly give back.

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Cutting down the stump before grinding.

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Life on the farm never did me any harm…

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Some retired old vehicles on the family farm including a relatively rare 1968 Mustang convertible. I learned to drive at a young age (14) in the old blue Ford half-ton on the right. It had a three speed manual shifter on the steering column and no power steering (affectionately referred to as armstrong steering).

My grandfather had considerable influence on my life as a boy. When my dad was gone for several summers finishing his degree in Education, my grandfather recognized that I missed my dad. He realized that I continued to need a father figure in my life and he stepped up to the plate. He often took me fishing on the lake near our farm. Just me, my grandpa, a little boat, some fishing gear, lunch, and the whole day to fish. It was there, on that relatively exquisite lake that I learned to fish – something that has stayed with me my entire adult life. I even passed down my love for fishing to my own children and grandchildren.

My grandpa was not an overly patient man and was known to lose his temper from time to time. Sometimes, during the pressure cooker of harvest time, the air would be blue from all the cussing and swearing going on when machinery broke down. He was a typical German-Canadian who ate too much sausage, drank too much whiskey, and worked too hard. He was also a very talented carpenter who could build whatever he imagined from just a few scraps of lumber. He was frugal by nature and could rightfully be described as the original MacGyver as he could fix just about anything with wire, duct tape, and a pocketful of nuts and bolts.

Grandpa had many wise sayings about life. These words of wisdom were not necessarily original, but they were certainly rooted in his life experience.

He basically started life in Canada with relatively nothing. By the time he passed away in his late 90’s he had accumulated significant wealth through farming and other outside business interests. He and my grandmother lived very modestly their entire lives, the only exception was their annual extended winter vacations to Arizona. I suppose one could consider them as true snowbirds.

My grandfather was a faithful Catholic and attended Mass nearly every Sunday. He retired in his late 70’s and somewhere along the line he took up the sport of golf. I spent many great afternoons with my grandpa hacking away at a golf ball with a number 3 iron and hunting in the bush for extra golf balls – only to slice them back into the trees on the next hole. Even though he was legally blind, he was still golfing at age 90. He just depended on his old cronies to point him in the right direction and away he went. Hunting for a golf ball that was sliced into the bush was no longer an option.

Besides, those old farts would only get lost and never be found 🙂

Eventually my grandfather was committed to a nursing home. As far as I know he was healthy, except for his blindness. About a year before he died, I took my three young girls to visit their great grandfather. He was delighted to visit with them once more. It wasn’t long before our littlest one was crawling all over him and feeling how smooth and soft his face was. That alone was quite remarkable as my grandpa used to have a deeply etched and tanned complexion that looked and probably felt like leather. This was something that he had acquired from the many years of working on an old red McCormick tractor without a cab (nicknamed Gorkie), fishing on open waters, and winters in sunny Arizona.

I was deeply saddened when my grandfather died at age 98. After all, he was the patriarch of our family. His four sons had sons and daughters – my generation. We in turn, had children and so forth. I have never really summed up how many relatives I have that originated from the family patriarch, but I suspect we could fill a small town all by ourselves 🙂