Hurricanes and Gingkos

Back when I was a child in Metuchen, New Jersey, hurricanes passed by with some regularity. One came just after my father had planted twin gingko trees in our front yard. While he was normally quite fastidious in tree-planting, for some reason he had neglected to stake these two. That night, as the worst of the hurricane passed, he watched with rising upset as his gingkos tossed and bent nearly to the ground.

“We could lose them if the wind keeps up,” he fretted. My mother was unmoved, not caring overmuch about trees. Imagine her alarm when he appeared at the front door in a raincoat, armed with rope, stakes and a mallet.

“You’re crazy!” she yelled over the storm. “You want to leave three children fatherless for a couple ginkos?” I peered into the black, driving rain. They did look a little insignificant — and replaceable.

Wild shrieks filled the living room as my father shouldered the storm door open. This was thrilling, really. Imagine wind as strong as my father, pretty much the strongest man on earth, I thought in those days.  He staggered across the yard as my mother kept up a litany of observations regarding his mental state. I watched, terrified and fascinated as he roped down the wildly bucking trees. Would I be fatherless that night? Still, what a story: “So how did he die?” kids would ask forever after. “Saving our gingko trees.”

Happily, both the trees and my father survived the storm and grew to stately age. Fast forward to Hurricane Irene. In Manayunk, PA, police arrest two men for rafting down the main street on a charge of “lack of common sense.” If the Metuchen police had been equally diligent, my father would have been locked up that night. As it was, we had ice cream and it could be that my mother was secretly proud of him.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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