Friday, August 12, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Old Friends


In this heated political time, when dignity is lost to righteousness, when loudness is mistaken for passion, when conformity is the misguided refuge of the battered soul, where are we left at the end of the day? Based on who won, you may be bemoaning the end of the world or rejoicing the dawn of a new era. The beginning and the end. Same thing, different angle, right?                

So, where do we go for shelter after this political barrage? Where do we find our spa weekend? Where is home base?                

Jack’s an old man now. He used to be a cop long before my time. He lives on a quiet street and comes from a quieter time. He keeps an eye on things. He moves a little slowly, has a few aches and pains, but the years have not dimmed his vision.                

What is odd about Jack is his yard. It is a large, old-city yard. You know, one of those yards scattered throughout the Des Moines metro that still smell of the remnants of dairy land and pasture — at least an acre-and-a-half sitting right in town. It is loaded with trees. Many at different stages of growth. It is a backyard that has turned into a forest.                

What’s going on here?                                 

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Jack gives an explanation in a matter-of-fact voice: “When people die, it takes about five minutes to forget them, you know? These are all my family and friends,” he says gesturing around him. When a friend of Jack’s dies, when a family member dies, he plants a tree. It’s no more complicated than that. He’s done it for years.

“Here’s Uncle John, and that’s Tim,” he tells me as we walk among the trees. “And over there was a tree that I planted for my niece — hit by a car and had brain damage. She died five to six years after I planted the tree for her. The tree died at the same time she did. Here’s the spot.” Jack gestured to a raised point next to a new pine.

Can you believe this?

OK, as neighbors glare over the barrier of their front-yard campaign signs to their neighbor’s porch equally barricaded — and as you fume in your cubicle about how God has abandoned the world — perhaps you should take a pause with Jack.                

“Every day I come out and talk to the trees,” he says in a quiet voice.                

Home base. A visit with old friends. A cure for the soul that gently tickles out a carefully buried thought that refuses to remain hidden.                

Don’t be silly… you know the thought: Who will plant a tree for me? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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