A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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When I was two years old, my family moved into a two-story stucco and brick house on East 27th Street in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Soon after my second birthday, my dad and my grandpa planted an apple tree in the postage stamp-sized garden.

After that, it was always known as “Laurie’s Tree,” even though I had a younger brother. I knew it was spring when the branches turned white with apple blossoms. Summer wasn’t quite so pretty. The small red apples that fell from the tree in the summer were bitter and filled with worms. My dad and grandpa argued a few times about spraying the tree with pesticide but there was no such thing as organic pesticide in the 1950s. Everything was poisonous and they decided that it was safer not to eat the wormy apples than to fill the air with toxic chemicals.

Nevertheless, my tree became a special landmark. When I was in first grade, we had “duck and cover” drills where we would hide under our desks with our hands over our heads in case the Russians dropped an atom bomb in New York. In 1954, my BFF Abby baptized me under the tree using a garden hose to wash away my sins “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Years later, after I graduated college, I became a photographer and journalist. I traveled through the deserts and the jungles of South America taking pictures of people who had never seen a camera or, for that matter, anyone with blue eyes. This was way before cell phones or the Internet. Phones were landlines and they didn’t work so well when it came to overseas calls. We had to rely on letters and postcards which could take a month to get wherever they were going–in either direction.

So it was hard, sometimes, waking up in a strange country where I didn’t know anyone. I was often lonely and sometimes more than a little scared. That’s when I would see my tree in my mind’s eye. It reminded me that no matter where I went or how long I was away, there was a postage stamp garden in Brooklyn where my apple tree was waiting for me to find my way home.

 

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Dr. Laurie Nadel is an award-winning journalist and former columnist for "The New York Times" Long Island section.