This story begins 10 years ago when my wife and I were looking at a house that would become our home. The real estate agent was on vacation so the owners showed us the house. We knew we liked it upon entering but our decision to buy it was sealed by what we saw when we stepped out onto a second level porch with a view of the yard and vacant lot next to it.
The owner pointed out two large trees, one of which was a beautiful, mature Bradford Pear tree. The branches of this kind of tree form a bell shape, which makes for wonderful shade -- an important feature for the hot and humid southern coastal Summers. Also, the leaves go through a brilliant metamorphasis throughout the year, from white flowers in Spring to green leaves in the Summer, to a bright red in Autumn, to leaves on the ground in Winter for our children to play in.
After taking in the scenery from the porch, my wife noticed a cat wandering through the yard and immediately inquired about it. The owner said, "That's Chapman. She is our cat but we can't take her with us. Our neighbor said she would feed her after we leave." My wife turned to me and I immediately recognized the look, which said three things without words: "This person is a fool to abandon such a beautiful creature; we're buying this house; and Chapman will be our cat." All three things were realized.
For 9 years we enjoyed that home, during which time the tree grew even bigger and more beautiful as did our family and our love for Chapman the cat. For a few years, we allowed her to freely go outdoors, where she used the Bradford Pear tree's shade to relax and its trunk to sharpen her claws. When she grew older, we convinced her that she belonged inside the house with us.
Around the time we decided to move from that home to our current one, we noticed construction workers preparing the vacant lot for building. Our longtime suspicion and fear was now realized -- the tree was positioned in such a way that it would need to be removed (destroyed) to make room for a new home to be built on the vacant lot.
Saddened by our discovery, we walked under and around the Bradford Pear to see if there was any way that the home could be built without taking down that tree. The property lines drawn made it appear impossible not to remove the tree. But suddenly and amazingly we discovered a small sprout coming out of the ground nearby. It was a baby tree growing from the root of the Bradford Pear! My two young boys and I carefully dug around the tiny sprout, cut the mother tree's root on each side of the baby tree, and placed it in a pot. The next day, the construction workers tore down the mother Bradford Pear.
Not long after that sad day, we put our home on the market, sold it, and moved to Hilton Head Island with our family, which of course included Chapman, our other cats, our dog... and the baby Bradford Pear.
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. ~ Irving Townsend
One week ago, as of this writing, our dear old cat and treasured family member, Chapman, died. Fortunately my wife and I were with Chapman, comforting her, the moment she took her last breath. Meanwhile, out in the yard of our new home was our young Bradford Pear, which had outgrown its pot.
It must have been less than a few minutes after Chapman died we decided that she should be buried that day -- on the same day the young tree would find its new home in the earth... directly above Chapman.
The photograph of the young Bradford Pear (right) was taken the day it was placed into the ground, along with our beloved cat.
The mother Bradford Pear tree and Chapman both gave us many years of life and love that can continue growing for many more years with the young tree, which will no doubt grow just as big and beautiful as her mother, thanks in part to Chapman's nourishing body laying in the earth just beneath the tree.
To end this story, I should mention one of our family's favorite books, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It's a story of a tree that loves a boy who used the tree as shade, a place to play, to eat the tree's apples, and eventually to use as wood to build a home when the boy becomes a man. After he loses his livelihood and family to his selfish ways, he returns as an old man to the Giving Tree, which happily offers all that it has remaining to give, a stump, for the old man to sit and be comfortable. The tree had never stopped giving, never expecting anything in return.
Our story is a bit different. Our young tree will undoubtedly give to us like its mother did but we will also give back to it, as will Chapman.