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Tue, Oct. 15

Column: The day Dad decided to cut down the trees

The old brick house we had moved into on Madison Avenue had two large elm tress on either side of the front yard. The trees were huge; the trunks were at least three feet in diameter, and they towered 100 feet into the air.

Dad hated them. All summer, they would drip sticky sap. Then in the fall, they would carpet the yard with a thick layer of leaves. Often, after a severe storm, a large branch would break off, and Dad was afraid that one day, one of those branches would fall on the house or car.

That was his complaint. I should have been the one complaining. The chore of raking leaves and pulling dead branches down, then cutting them into pieces, usually fell to me. Seems like I had to do everything!

One weekend, Dad decided he had had enough of those trees, so along with my uncle and another friend, he proceeded to cut them down. With borrowed saws and ladders, they began to cut the large branches off. They were careful to secure them with a rope so they could control the fall.

The higher branches were the first to come down, and the whole job was going smoothly until one branch got away. It swung into the house, breaking a large picture window.

Dad was not happy. His extensive and colorful vocabulary was employed to such an extent that the air in the neighborhood was blue for a week.

The window was replaced, the tree was cut down and rolled over to one side of the driveway, and after filling the hole, new lawn was planted.

A strange thing happened the following spring. On the spot where the tree had stood was a large ring of beautiful white mushrooms.

Dad marveled at them and asked Mom if she thought they would be good to eat. "Well, I don't know," she replied. "I don't know anything about mushrooms. I've always been told they're toadstools, and you will get sick if you eat them."

Dad wasn't easily convinced, and I could see by the wistful look in his eye that he was hoping maybe she was wrong.

Mushrooms were the only one of the delicacies Dad loved. He loved cheese - sharp cheddar and Swiss were at the top. He also loved spicy lunchmeat and horseradish. I can remember him making a sandwich with a liberal daub of horseradish and then seeing his eyes water as he ate it.

Anyway, Dad finally somehow - and against her better judgment - convinced Mom to cook the mushrooms. Several of the best-looking ones were selected, and that evening as she was preparing dinner, Mom carefully washed, sliced and fried them.

I don't remember what else we had for dinner that night, but I am sure it was something that went with mushrooms. The family gathered around the table. On one side was my sister Pat and brother Larry. On the other side with me were my other two siblings, Frances and Barbara.

We all watched expectantly as Mom, after serving us, placed a portion of fried mushrooms on Dad's plate. Dad started to take a bite, but then pushed them aside. The conversation then turned to mushrooms.

Pat told of having heard that poison mushrooms caused a very slow and painful death.

Larry told of having heard that people who had eaten them had gone blind or were paralyzed.

Dad was unusually quiet. We could almost hear him thinking: "How do you know they're bad? How can you tell a good one from a bad one?"

Frances asked Mom, "What if Daddy eats them and dies?" Mom, in her own unique sympathetic way, said, "Then we dig a hole in the back yard and bury him." Hearing that, I suggested I could dig the hole in the corner of the yard by the back fence. No one heeded my offer, so I returned to my plate, keeping one eye on Dad.

Dinner was finished, but the mushrooms remained untouched. Dad just could not bring himself to take the chance.

We finished eating. The table was cleared and the dishes washed. The still-uneaten mushrooms were dumped into the garbage.

Were they poison? We never did find out.

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