Tuesday, June 3, 2014

R.I.P. Alice

Wait! What? You thought this was an homage to The Brady Bunch? Yes, that was in the news, and the world is missing a comedic actress, but this is much closer to home. Actually, literally, closer to home.

It started with packing up more of the home library to take south in the fall. One of the books was a very old joke book, and it brought to mind a joke/riddle I read years ago and never forgot. Back in the day, boys and girls, back when your grandparents were little, there were things called telegrams. Unlike email, you had to pay for them, pay for each word. There was a set price for ten words, and then they got really expensive. Since punctuation wasn't part of the Morse code, the word "stop" was inserted for periods. Those were free. And stories about telegrams always had a penny-pinching miser in them.

In this case there was a very important telegram to send, and the miser had to figure out how to send all the information without paying a single extra penny. This was the final message: "Bruises hurt stop erased afford stop analysis hurt too stop infectious dead stop"

After puzzling it out for a while, if you still couldn't quite work out the message, they gave you the answer. "Bruce is hurt. He raced a Ford. And Alice is hurt too. In fact, she's dead."

The fact that Alice is named in the joke called something else to mind, particularly since I had a run near the old neighborhood this morning. When we moved to Shoreview, our newest kid, Paul, had just made our family big enough to crowd us out of the little 3-bedroom mobile home and into a real house. It had some oaks in the yard, perfect for hanging a tire swing on. But we needed another tree, a weeping willow. I finally had a yard I could do things to, and I'd always loved weeping willows. We dug a hole in the front yard, down through a foot of sand, and finally struck a smelly black layer of decayed organics. Our house had been moved in over a vacant lot, given a modern basement, and the sand had been smoothed over all the years' collection of decaying vegetation to allow a lawn to be put down. We weren't sure if that stinky stuff was going to be good for the tree or not, but planted it there anyway. Digging one hole was plenty.

It turned out to be exactly the right rich wonderful spot the willow needed. Within a couple years it had grown enough to be turned into a climbing tree for the kids, pruned with branches spaced just right for access and safety. Stephanie named "her" Alice. When we moved to Georgia, that next yard got its own Alice planted, and two weeping willows were planted in the back of this house. The last two weren't named, however. Steph was grown and gone. There was a new generation to appreciate the willows, one not familiar with tree naming. These willows also grew fast and were pruned for climbing, and Jordan and her brother Adam spend many an hour high up in them.

One year the first one blew over in a storm and became firewood. Steph came up with Ben the next year to help in the chopping down after the last one had a huge split in the trunk and was deemed unsafe. There are no plans to plant another Alice here, and Arizona is hardly the place for one.

With some time after dropping a package in Shoreview this morning, I decided to swing over a couple blocks and go past the old house there, site of the first Alice, see how she was doing. Alas, she was no more. There was, however, a stump in the middle of the front yard, a bit over a foot tall.

R.I.P., Alice. All you Alices.

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