Saturday, May 12, 2012

Palm Tree Mystery

“Don't chop the palm trees down!” Harold bellowed from his front yard as the third tree specialist of the week drove off.
“We’re having them trimmed.”
“Just get on the roof and do it yourself.  That’s what I did,” he said hoisting an American flag on its pole.
I scanned his deserted front yard.  "Harold you don’t have any palm trees to trim.”
“I trimmed yours, from your roof.”

Now I was new to suburban living in Los Angeles but this struck me as weird.  Yes, Harold was our nosy next-door neighbor and a retired engineer but no amount of nosiness or engineering, control-freak behavior could explain why he would have trimmed our trees before we moved in.

Unless of course: 1) He cared about our neighborhood’s neat esthetic.  2) He was concerned about his own property’s value being brought down by a vacant home’s sloppy garden.  Or 3) He was a crazy thrill seeker.

“Harold, what do you mean you trimmed our trees?”
“I climbed on the roof and used a pole trimmer to cut the leaves off the Queen Palms,” he said pointing to two brown trunks along the front walk.  “Although maybe I trimmed them too much because they look… dead.”
“They’re definitely dead.  But why did you trim our trees?”  
“She wanted me to.”
“She?  Your wife?”
“My mother-in-law.  She loved palms and she made me trim them—”
“Wait,” I gasped.  “These palms—and our house—they belonged to your mother-in-law?”
“And father-in-law.  They built the house in the 1950s.  He tolerated palms but she adored them because they were so California—”
“What!  Your in-laws built and lived in our house and you lived next door to them?”
“For 30 years,” he said scratching his forehead.  “Why else would I be trimming the trees in your yard?  I’m not a crazy thrill seeker, for Pete’s sake.”
“No,” I shook my head.  “Of course not.” 

What a revelation!   Harold knew—and was related—to the people who built our house.  Which made him an oral historian of the development and establishment of our house and the lives of the people who’d lived in it.  This piece of information explained so much about him and his strong, nosy interest in us and our home.  It gave me a new appreciation for him.  It made me want to hear his stories about the house, the trees, his in-laws and family.

“Harold, you want to come over for a cup of coffee and chat about the house’s early days?”  He looked at me with surprise.  
“Why talk about the past?  I’ve got too much to do now,” he said straightening his baseball cap and climbing into the car.  Before he drove off he put the window down and called out.  “She’d be glad you’re not cutting her trees down.”  

I was glad, too.  In a world of disposable things, these trees—his mother-in-law’s palms—stood as a testament to the power and beauty of Los Angeles both yesterday and today.