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I was there when it arrived -- Kismet? Coincidence? -- visiting my old best friend whom I hadn't seen in years. She had ordered it before she knew I was coming, a "Dorothy" tree she called it, homage to my mother, whose name was Dorothy.

My visit was all impulse. I met Rosemary in second grade. Throughout grade school we were inseparable. Then, little by little, we grew apart.

Geography separated us. Separate high schools. Separate colleges. Separate lives lived in different states. When she moved close to Boston, we reconnected.

Seven years ago she retired to North Carolina. She and her husband wanted to be closer to their sons. Last September when they sold their house and moved to a bigger one, I thought how sad it was that I had never once visited, that I had never seen where Rosemary had lived.

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In February, I had a significant birthday. And Jet Blue had a sale. I called Rose and said, "Time is flying. If you're going to be in town, I'm coming for a day."

It turned out to be the day the landscapers had scheduled to plant the "Dorothy" tree.

Rosemary's "Dorothy" tree about two months after it was planted in honor of Dorothy Curtin.
Rosemary's "Dorothy" tree about two months after it was planted in honor of Dorothy Curtin.Handout

It was a weeping willow, of course, as skinny as a witch's broom, a used broom, the bristles scant, the green leaves the only clue that it really was a tree. Its roots were tucked into a bucket, which must have weighed next to nothing because a small man carried both tree and bucket from the front lawn to the back with just one hand grasping the spindly trunk.

Rose supervised the planting. She'd choose a spot of flat ground, have the men set down the tree, then walk inside to see what it looked like from the kitchen window. "A little to the left. Back a bit. There. That's good," she told them. She wanted to see the tree from every angle.

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When it was, at last, properly positioned, we sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee and watched as the men dug a hole, lifted the tree out of its bucket, planted, secured, and watered it.

And then we went on with our day.

I never asked her, why? Why now? Why this tree, after all these years. "Because we just moved." "Because the backyard needs a tree." "Because I've always wanted a weeping willow." Rose might have said any of these things because each is true.

But this is the bigger truth: Once upon a time Rose and I were best friends. Once upon a time we spent every moment together, day and night, night and day, at each other's houses. Once upon a time, she watched my father haul two skinny trees out of the trunk of his car, dig holes, plant the trees in our backyard where there wasn't even grass yet, and stake them so they wouldn't fall over. Once upon a time Rose saw my mother fuss over these trees, over all things that grew, my mother a city girl, a transplant in love with the great outdoors. Once upon a time. That's what Rose remembers.

Those trees grew fast. And they grew big and tall. And my mother set up her chaise lounge in their shade. And my father posed us for pictures in front of those trees. They were his pride, and my mother's joy.

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And then Hurricane Carol struck and flooded our basement and tore the shingles off our roof, and pulled those beloved trees right out of the ground.

Rose remembers all this. Rose remembers my father and those trees and our youth and my mother. So few people do.

That's what happens. And with every passing year, there are fewer people who remember.

The "Dorothy" tree is a kind of immortality. "Why do you call it a "Dorothy" tree, someone might ask Rose. And she will tell the story. And maybe this person will smile. Maybe this person will look at weeping willow trees in a whole, new way. Maybe this person will start thinking of weeping willows as "Dorothy" trees. And in this small way a part of my mother will live on.


Beverly Beckham's column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at bevbeckham@gmail.com.