Chance Made Us Neighbours-Hearts Made Us Friends
Eight years ago today my dear friend Ella died.
Over twenty years ago, in another city and another time, we had new neighbours move in next door. Our daughter, a single child, was standing on her bed watching the activity next door. “Mom” she squealed with delight “They’ve got kids!!”. Ella and husband Al had arrived with their four children. Our families became close friends over the years. We shared meals, we talked and laughed and experienced a great deal of life together as neighbours. We coached a softball team together and naively hosted a shared garage sale thinking it would be fun. We had keys for each others homes and often “shopped” in each other pantries if a trip to the store was inconvenient. Two of the girls who are close in age to our daughter became sisters in everything but blood to her. While the three of them are now separated by time and substantial distances, they remain close.
Ella and I became close friends. I admired her strength, her humour, her energy and her capacity to love. I marvelled at her blue eyes which burned brilliantly particularly when she was passionate about something-right through you I thought. (based on those brilliant eyes and the sharp intellect I thought it wise to always stay on her team…not the opposing one.)
While there are many things that could be said, the story I want to tell today is about Ella’s tree. And something that happened after her death. To this day when I tell the story I get goosebumps.
For a number of years before she died, Ella would travel to our family cottage at Crooked Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley for a getaway. She sometimes was with her family, sometimes with her dear friend Caroline and sometimes alone. She loved the place-it was very special to her. When she died her family asked if they could plant a tree at the lake in her honour.
This is the story of the day we planted Ella’s tree. I wrote and sent to Ella’s family shortly after the planting.
|Crooked Lake from the top of the Qu’Appelle Valley|
On June 13, Al, Joanne (my sister) and I went to Lakeview Gardens to look at trees. It was to be a tree in memory of Ella who so loved the lake and the times that she spent there over the years. Al chose a crimson maple. It stood about 8 feet tall and the trunk was about 2 inches across. We planned to have the tree delivered to the lake the following weekend.
For those of us at the lake the week before the delivery, there was much discussion about where to plant the tree. On the left side of the lot, at the right side, at the front in the middle (no, that won’t do-Ella wouldn’t want the view spoiled). We acted like workers standing around a construction site waving our arms, pointing and doing everything but digging a hole. Joanne didn’t stay the whole week but before she left to go back to the city, we said to her “Give us direction and we will dig the hole while you are gone.” She didn’t and so we waited for her return.
Joanne brought the tree out on the weekend of June 19. Saturday morning was a pleasant and sunny one and we retrieved the tree from the van. Then we started all over again. Should the tree be on the left side, should it be on the right, how far away from the current trees, how big will it grow (checking the tag and pacing off imaginary branches and leaves in all directions), what will it do to the neighbours’ view, what about the prevailing winds…..on and on. Finally Joanne said OK, this is the spot and away we went. Digging, digging, then putting root nutrient liquid in the hole, compost leaves from the back of the lot,a stake for stability and then the tree. We anchored the tree to the stake and stood back to survey our handiwork.
Kathy from the cottage next door came over and started to chat with Joanne. Kathy said she saw we had become arborists and Joanne said, yes, the tree was in memory of our dear friend Ella who had spent time at the cottage. Kathy knew Ella and was saddened by the news and she said:
“Oh, that lady…..that lady! I said to my husband, as you dug the hole…. where is that lady going to put her lawn chair for that’s where she always sat in the sun and read her book.”
And so, without realizing it, and with guidance that only Ella could give, we planted the tree where she did her reading on the lawn. I’m sure the rationale was that if she couldn’t sit in that spot then no one else could either. We will give the tree love and attention and we want to have you come to the lake to see it too.
It’s a lovely spot, a lovely tree and is a memory of a beautiful woman.
|Joanne by Ella’s Tree June 2004|
My sister Joanne died suddenly in September of that same year. Two families and their friends devastated by the deaths of strong, loving and wonderful women. Ella’s tree faired well for a number of years. The cottage property was sold. We didn’t leave the tree behind. We couldn’t do that.