I came around the corner to Dahill Street in Brooklyn on a Tuesday morning, wearing my orange safety vest, and there stood a little old lady with a neat blue dress and the white helmet coif that showed she spent time once a week at the beauty salon. Just standing there at the gate of her Brooklyn-red-brick house. Waiting for something.
Out of nowhere, she pulled me aside. Sometimes the vest serves as an invitation. “There’s a very good Italian place down the block,” she said. “Oh, he makes very good sandwiches.”
Not too many Italian delis around here these days, I thought, it’s mainly kosher now. Plus the streets here are semi industrial. But workers need sandwiches, so the sole remaining shop survived.
In front of the woman’s house stood a husky old oak, its bark tough and crusty, its heavy branches spreading high up over the sidewalk. A few blemishes, insect holes like eyes, but they only made it more beautiful.
“Listen,” she said, “Do you think the city would come cut my tree?”
I asked what the problem was.
“The squirrels are dropping those — what are they called?”
“Acorns,” I said. She was not young, this woman.
“Yes, acorns, and they’re dropping them on the roof of the house and making a terrible racket.”
“You want to cut the tree?” I said. “It’s a nice tree.”
“No! Just if they would come trim the branches,” she said. “I would never want them to cut the tree down. It’s 63 years old, I remember because it was planted the year after my son was born.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“You know,” she said, “in the summertime, everyone comes over and we sit under the tree. It’s so nice and cool in the shade.”
We stood on the stained streets of this shabby neighborhood, clogged with trucks, noisy, so changed from when she had her young son 63 years ago. And I thought of Chekhov, and the summer retreats of that time, and the racket of the acorns hitting the roof like the steady chopping sound of cherry trees in the background, off stage where you can’t see them.