Monday, August 15, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

A tree on a roof


The tree rests comfortably on the roof. Nonchalantly, really. Not a care in the world. Might as well be in a pushed-back recliner with feet up. Perhaps a cigar would be in order. Or at least one of those new cocktails that are so popular at the local bars. It would seem only right that the tree should be able to smoke and drink and tell tall tales.

Tales about life on the long-ago Urbandale dairy farm where the tree provided shade to the cows and the dairy farmer, for example. Or maybe something about the clanging streetcars that rolled up Urbandale Avenue to the roundabout just a block away before heading back downtown in the opposite direction. Or maybe it could tell of the three old sisters who lived in this house with a large garden and a few secret rooms and who passed on years ago, living lives with little fanfare and no complaints.

How did our tree get in this predicament?

Suddenly, for sure.

We all lived the story. The wind whipped ferociously. The trees swayed dangerously. And there was a roar that sounded loudly. Derecho, the storm was called, sounding much like a gunslinger from a Western movie.

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Our tree could only take so much. It did its very best. But at last, it bent at the knees and rested on the roof.

Take a load off. Relax.

To sit here on the roof is a great way to see the city hustle around as it cleans up the debris and repairs the downed power lines. And this tree has stared at this roof for more than 80 years. And now here it is. Up close and personal. At last.

So stay awhile.

When this tree was middle-aged, I was a religion major at the University of Iowa. I wanted to study death and dying and how one should live his or her life. Religion seemed to be the ticket. The fact that I wasn’t much of a believer didn’t matter for this quest.

My dad was dying of a brain tumor during this time. A steady stream of bad news over three years as he lost all his functions while the family constantly adjusted to care for him. A hard time.

What was not helpful during this three years was well-meaning people who would pat me on the back, look me directly in the eye, and say: “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” As I helped my dad with the most basic functions such as going to the bathroom or taking a shower, I failed to see the window and wanted to show the giver of such good advice the door. Perhaps that is what the quote actually means. Who knows? Even today when I hear someone give this advice, I appreciate the kindness, I truly do, but I fight the strong desire to poke myself in the eye.

But what did happen from this experience was EXPERIENCE.

My dad’s dying became the mantra for facing adversity. It became a measuring stick.

So, if one of my kids was crying all night with an ear infection, that was bad. Was it like taking care of my dying dad? Hah! Not even close.

And once a defense lawyer who was upset with me in a murder trial called me a racist. The next day that quote was in the newspaper. Was this even remotely like lifting my limp father from his chair to his bed every day? Get serious.

Financial loss, marital spats, disappointments, thwarted ambitions… all worse than seeing my father slowly disappear? Please.

Now a tree on the roof? Hah! Not even in the ballpark.

So the tree sits on my roof, languidly enjoying the view as the Iowa summer turns into fall.

And me? I raise a glass — to the tree and to my dad. ♦

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: www.


  1. Mary Kundrat says:

    Just lovingly heartwarming, Joe.

  2. Thomas Waters says:

    Thanks for the poignant reminder of what really matters in this life Joe. Good stuff.

  3. Tom Machia says:

    I lost my wife to brain cancer 3 years ago. Today when someone complains about Covid affecting their wedding plans or some vacation I want to burst out laughing at them. Our lost loved ones were 10 times tougher than anyone I have met. If your words made just one person stop and reflect then it was well worth your time. What an excellent writing Joe.
    Be well.

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