History in Trees and Pianos

“Thank you, Evelyn.”

I’ve murmured that phrase many times since we moved to our home in the tiny town of Dalton, Ohio. (Dalton is just a stone’s throw from Lehman’s, which is located in the even-tinier village of Kidron.)

I say it each summer when the mimosa tree bursts into bloom. The mimosa – in profuse bloom right now – is truly an unusual tree.  Also called a Persian Silk Tree, it is native to Asia, from Persia east to China and Korea, but can also be found in many states in the U.S. It’s even invasive in some places. However, ours is the only one I have ever seen around here.

According to family lore, Evelyn Amstutz (a beloved local teacher and horticulturist who, with her husband, built our house in the early 1950s) bought the seedling for $1 on a trip down south, brought it home and babied it through the brutal Ohio winters, covering it with burlap until it had toughened enough to withstand the cold.

Its delicate flowers – like the softest pink powder puffs on your cheek – are sweet-smelling and strongly scented, especially in the evening. People have told me they can smell the tree on walks up our street at twilight, long before it comes into view. My family and I only have to wander outside, breathe deeply and smile contentedly. “Thank you, Evelyn.”

The truth is, small towns like ours are steeped in little “histories” – pieces of the people who once lived here as we do now. That house, that tree, that stained glass window, that scholarship, that headstone. In tiny, sometimes imperceptible ways, they left their mark. But if we take the time to investigate and listen carefully, they will speak to us.

Here’s another example. I hope our local high school students will learn something about Vic Gerber, a man who did so much to promote the arts, especially music, in our community. His name is on the award given each spring to an outstanding senior choir member. He started the Dalton High School marching band, wrote the school Alma Mater and directed an area performance of Handel’s Messiah for decades.

Many, many “regular” and amazing folks have called this town and our area home. I hope we all will take some time to discover the fascinating little histories that surround us. For now, I’m content to have Evelyn’s fragrant tree overlooking the house and my mother’s upright piano in our living room. Inside that piano is a signature, written in pencil by the first person who ever tuned this now 40-year-old instrument. It says simply, “Vic.”

One thought on “History in Trees and Pianos

  1. Lovely little thought. Thank you! Our 90-year old house is surrounded by iris, bushes and trees planted by its first owners– the wife was a dedicated gardener. I’ve said many “thank yous” to her, too– and to the second owner, a WWII Navy carpenter who added shelves and closets galore to our house. There’s something deeply comforting about living in a home someone else has previously nurtured and loved, isn’t there?