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Mr. Deeley's Apple Tree

09/23/08 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) As autumn arrives and the leaves begin to turn, commentator Deborah Luskin is thinking about the stories trees might tell, if only they could talk.
    
(LUSKIN) About ten years ago, Richard Deeley invited my husband and me to visit him - and to bring a shovel. He wanted us to dig up a tree.
   
My husband, Tim, is a family doctor, and. Mr. Deeley was his patient. I managed Tim's office, and knew Mr. Deeley from his visits there. He was in his nineties by the time I met him, and he arrived for his appointments in a well-brushed coat, creased pants, ironed shirt, and tie. His courtly manners matched his attire; his presence delighted us all.

One raw day in late fall, Tim and I drove out to Richard Deeley's home. We were told to take any and as many trees as we wanted for the bare land around our recently built home. There was one tree, in particular, that Mr. Deeley wanted us to have: a small apple - surrounded by saplings of second growth forest filling in an old pasture.
   
Set, as it was, against the larger backdrop of a looming forest, the tree appeared tiny. Digging it up, however, proved otherwise. Once wrestled out of the ground, it filled the back of the pickup and hung over the tail gate by a good five feet. But when we arrived home and dragged the tree to the hole we'd dug, it seemed to have shrunk again, to a pathetic, windblown specimen oddly out of place near the young sugar maples taking root at the edge of the lawn. We planted it anyway.

Then, after about five years, the tree lost its windswept appearance and started to take on a pleasing shape. Each spring, it bloomed profusely - a magnet for our honeybees - but it never bore fruit - until this year, when it produced hundreds of apples - small and delicious. Giddy with our bounty, we picked them and made applesauce. We dried them. We were planning to make cider when we ran out of steam and fed the rest to the chickens.
   
The fruiting of the tree has brought Mr. Deeley back into our lives. He died eight years ago, at age 99. But the tree that he grew from an apple he'd eaten now thrives.
   
That's quite a legacy, for a tree.

It's made me look around at all the trees we've planted - and all the trees that have planted themselves. I wonder what stories they'd tell, if only they could talk. And then I see the tale of summer's end as the leaves turn the hills to yellow and red. And I think of the jars of applesauce lined up on the shelves in my basement like so many stories we'll hoard until winter. When at last we spoon the applesauce into our bowls, out too will come the stories of Mr, Deeley and his apple tree - just as if the apple tree could talk.
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