TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Going Out On A Limb

It had been a rough past few weeks. At the end of May, my wife’s mother had passed away suddenly from respiratory and heart failure. This on the heels of her father’s death less than a year earlier. Then, our brother-in-law, diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer this spring, had taken his final breath Thursday, after several heart-breaking months of deterioration.

I’d just spent Friday afternoon visiting my 95-year old mother, whose memory has gotten so bad, she’d forgotten I was coming and failed to answer her phone. As I plunked myself down on the couch and slowly nodded off, I simply wanted the world to go away.

Suddenly, I was shaken from my slumber by a loud crash. What sounded like a firecracker left me no longer lingering in la la land.

Within seconds, it seemed, the doorbell was ringing and a neighbor appeared at the front step. “I was out in my garage with my son when we heard the crack,” he said.

We both stood gaping at the mess now occupying my driveway.

Somehow, our 26-year old ash tree had lost a giant limb and collapsed on our basketball pole, sending leaves and branches up against the garage door as high as the eaves above it. Not to mention, lowering the basket height from 10 feet to 1, in a heartbeat. There was no hint of lightning damage. In fact, the sun was breaking through the clouds about the time the incident occurred.

Admittedly, I’d been slow to trim this out-of-control tree prior to my daughter’s recent visit from Chicago. She’d beaten me in HORSE for the first time, in part because many of my shots got deflected by the overhanging branches. And yes, also in part because she’s simply a better shooter now than her old man.

Nonetheless, while I’d pondered either trimming the tree or lowering the adjustable basket, we’d done neither that day. Now, both had been accomplished in one fell swoop, but not exactly in the fashion I’d imagined.

Never the handyman, I wandered aimlessly through the garage, desperate to find my extremely inadequate little bow saw to begin the cleanup process. It was remindful of the scene in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” where Steve Martin and John Candy sat watching their car burn on the side of the highway after a series of calamities, unable to do anything by that point except begin to chuckle.

But just at my lowest moment … and our hoop’s lowest as well, this tree tale began to turn triumphant.

Moments later, that same neighbor and his wife were on their way back, with chainsaw in hand, determined to delay dinner and assist this turd named Tom, standing there helplessly trying to saw through a 2-foot trunk with his tiny tool.

Right behind them, trotted another neighbor and his daughter, who immediately began dragging heavy branches off the driveway as soon as the first neighbor made his swift slices.

Not to be outdone, a third neighbor and his wife arrived from several doors down, instantly and seamlessly joining the recovery operation while the old guy with the bow saw tried unsuccessfully to look like he was doing something, too.

Within less than an hour, these Good Samaritans had cleared the driveway and departed the scene. So quickly, in fact, that I’d forgotten to ask them what kind of beer they’d like.

But the story doesn’t end there.

On Saturday morning, the realization was setting in that a Second Phase would still be necessary. Yes, the twigs, leaves and branches were gone from the driveway, but now they sat in various places on our front lawn. That meant we faced the unenviable task of finding a tree service willing to haul off the mess on a weekend.

Neighbor No. 7 to the rescue. With concern growing that our grass would soon suffer, my closest neighbor had just finished mowing HIS lawn. Noticing me now trying to drag branches to the unused side of our three-car garage, he volunteered to offer space, too. Together we dragged half the load across the street and onto his unused side as well.

By this point, I was both blown away by these acts of kindness and in dire need of a nap. But little did I know that one more good-hearted soul would be arriving to complete my weekend of wonderment.

In the midst of our still painful sadness at the loss of three family members, our son, Pat, and his fiance, Britta, had recently brought tears of joy to our lives. The surprise announcement of an August wedding and news of our first grandchild expected this winter, had been bittersweet.

So with our families still getting familiar with one another, up stepped Britta’s father with the happiest of endings to this ever-branching saga.

After just meeting Friday to firm up wedding plans, Lyn Nelson had learned about our dilemma on Facebook. Out of the blue, he would spend his Saturday afternoon bailing out his soon-to-be relative with a van, a chainsaw and several visits to and from his property.

By late afternoon, we’d both worked up a good sweat in removing three van loads of debris, shared “old guy” musical interests and most importantly, gotten to know each other a bit better.

We still don’t know why that large limb came tumbling down. We’re also thankful that no one was injured and the only real loss was an aging basketball stand.

But what looked like a weekend that couldn’t get much worse would evolve into one of my fondest memories, thanks to my “Elite Eight” willing to drop everything to help a neighbor in need.

If I had to guess, Michael, Nikki, John, Michaela, Tim, Janet, Adam and Lyn seem like the type of folks who would rather I didn’t mention their names.

I’m going out on a limb and doing it anyway.

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