When the Dutch Elms Died in Buffalo

Dutch Elms died in Buffalo

Here’s a short story about growing up in North Buffalo that did not make it into the final version of The King of Kreskin Avenue. Hope you enjoy it……

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Do you remember when the Dutch Elm trees died and block after block of the city’s streets became treeless?

I was away at college in 1971when this happened, blissfully unaware of the angry crescendo of chain saws and chipper trucks that denuded and scarred Crestwood Avenue beyond recognition.

Where beauty and solitude had once reigned, now tens of thousands of raw, ugly stumps served as monuments to a viral enemy that brought down in a matter of days what God and the Buffalo Department of Parks and Forestry had created some 70 years earlier. Our neighborhood looked exactly like a war zone and the absence of even the slightest amount of shade cast the street and houses in a harsh and uncomplimentary light.

A few days after I came home, my brother handed me a brown paper bag that my friend Tony had given it to him. In the bag was a football – a genuine Wilson, all pigskin, professional model football I got as a twelfth-year birthday present. About thirty minutes after taking it out of the box and one magnificent punt later, I managed to wedge it directly into the crotch of a limb some 50 feet off the ground.

Lord, how we tried to get that football down. Wedged laces down and cemented to the tree by forces of nature and physics beyond our comprehension, the Crushers plotted and executed a substantial number of rescue attempts. We threw sticks and stones. We tried to hit it with hardballs and softballs and rubber balls. My buddy Bobby even managed to give it a couple of dead-on whacks with a few well-placed missiles from his slingshot.

There it remained for nearly seven years until it came crashing to the ground along with the rest of the top of the tree that had graced the front of our upper flat on Crestwood for over six decades. One of the tree crew members retrieved the ball and gave it to Tony who then gave it to my sister.

Seven years of harsh Buffalo weather – cold and rainy springs and falls, hot and humid summers, and winters, well you know about Buffalo winters – had damaged the skyward exposed portion of the ball beyond any utility. The pigskin and its supporting cloth warp had weathered away, leaving a bulging and distended rubber bladder.

As if shielded by the hand of God, the downward side was a different story. The ball looked as if had just came out of the box with an all too satisfying new football shiny glow. The laces were white and tight, and the lettering proclaiming that the ball was not only a Wilson, but indeed, an Official Professional Wilson Model 1963A02 was crisp and unblemished as if imprinted just hours instead of years ago.

Holding and staring at the damaged football against the backdrop of our unrecognizable neighborhood, I started to tear up. My brother was smart enough to not say anything. He knew that I wasn’t crying about getting a long lost ball back, or the memory of the punishment I got for how I treated a very expensive gift from parents who really couldn’t afford to give out those kind of gifts.

I was crying for the neighborhood; for something that could never be again, something that from that moment onward would only exist in memory, and when I looked up, I saw that my brother was crying too.

When the Dutch Elms Died in Buffalo

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