Long ago there lived next door to me an old Italian man named Mr. Salerno. I don't recall his first name - it may have been Angelo - but I do recall his tree. It began one spring day in 1957. He decided a tree would go well in front of his little home next door.
The problem was that the street was our playground where we played tag and stick ball. It didn't seem fair. Mr. Salerno decided to plant his tree proudly in front where all could see it very close to the curb where we played. It was a spindly little thing, but he guarded it like it was a holy shrine and even made a tiny foot-high fence to protect it. There he would sit on his bench, keeping an ever watchful eye against kids like me who had a habit of stepping on it during our play time.
It seemed a cruel act of fate that he planted that tree right where our third base was. Try as I would to respect him, I would continually step on that tree, only to hear him yell, "You stink-a-rotten-a-kids! No you step on my tree!" He even complained to my dad. I would go and apologize, but inevitably I would step on it again and again.
Those old Italian men were tough. They endured a depression, fought in a world war and smoked tiny rolled cigars that would kill a horse. They didn't ask much out of life, and I would have gladly complied with Mr. Salerno's simple wish for his tree's success. But I was nine, and there were too many games and adventures in me to assure him of that tree's longevity.
Then one day I fell on it while wresting with a fat kid who must have weighed 150 pounds. Sure enough, out came Mr. Salerno waving and yelling. The tree looked so bent and bruised, I was confident it was now dead. I was kind of hoping it would just give up the ghost so I could play in peace. But no, like the Roman arches of old, it continued, and I spent that summer with one eye on the ball and the other on the tree.
About 10 years ago I happened to pass the old house. Of course Mr. Salerno, who was already 75 in 1957, was by then long gone. But suddenly, to my amazement, there stood his tree still standing!
It was old now and wrinkled, kind of like me. But it had refused to die. It was a testament to the tenacity and dignity of people like Mr. Salerno who in gentler times knew and valued God's simple gifts. That tree's ability to withstand the storms of time reminds me of John 15:1-17. If we abide in Jesus, we too will endure. Looking back, I'm happy Mr. Salerno planted it. It gave me some memories I still treasure to this day.