World War II was raging when the house Jake built burned to the ground. It had housed his children, grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. The pine tree was badly scorched by the fire and many needles were burned away. Jake’s great-grandson, Harold, recalled neighbors wanted to cut the tree down, but he interceded and the pine was given a reprieve.
A basement was dug for a house to replace the pioneer home and the dirt was piled around the pine. The contractor thought the tree was going to die, so little care was taken in piling the dirt. A large wound was inflicted on one side of the tree by the equipment. But Jake’s pine shook off the fire damage and the contractor’s wound and greened up. Its limbs once again made their way out over the family home.
When the severe ice storms of the 1950s came, the soft maples on the farm dropped truck loads of limbs, but the pine lost hardly a bough. There was more lightning damage as the tree survived the remainder of the century, but it still clung to life.
When the severe windstorm hit Vermilion County on July 13, 2004, Jake’s pine shed one of its large limbs on the house. It snapped rafters like match sticks, and didn’t stop until it reached the floor of the entryway. The mast of the tree, already stunted and crippled by the elements, also gave way and found its way to the ground. Crippled but alive, the old veteran still had six large limbs intact.
Over the next several years the limbs died one by one. In 2011 the tree, which had lived to see two railroads come and go on the farm, shed its last green pine needle. During a long life it had shaded horses and carriages and the autos that replaced them. Generations of family members had enjoyed Jake’s pine for more than a century.
A visitor noticed the pine was gone and remarked, “Well, I see you finally got rid of that dead tree." ”No," I told him, "an old friend was laid to rest."
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.