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Remembering Mayor Tom Menino, And The Maple Tree He Didn't Forget

Renee Loth: "Whether we saw each other weekly or after an absence of six months, nearly his first words of greeting were invariably about the tree. How’s that tree doin’? Tree good? How’s the tree? Pictured: Mayor Tom Menino and the author, sharing a laugh about her maple tree, May 22, 2012. (Boston Society of Architects/flickr)
Renee Loth: "Whether we saw each other weekly or after an absence of six months, nearly his first words of greeting were invariably about the tree. How’s that tree doin’? Tree good? How’s the tree? Pictured: Mayor Tom Menino and the author, sharing a laugh about her maple tree, May 22, 2012. (Boston Society of Architects/flickr)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Now it can be told: In 1997, I wrote a light piece in The Boston Globe lamenting the loss of an old maple tree in front of my house that came crashing down during a freak April snowstorm. The column was mostly about the uplifting presence these graceful old trees can have in Boston’s less vernal neighborhoods (I live in Brighton), but I guess I groused a little near the end about the 18-month wait the Boston Parks Department said I could expect for a replacement sapling.

...it was vintage Tom Menino: Helping out the residents of Boston in matters simple and profound; remembering the smallest details about each individual; making everyone feel special in the light of his attention.

The next time I saw Tom Menino, he quizzed me closely about the tree. Mortified that the mayor might think I would use the pages of The Globe to ask for any kind of special favor – and surprised that he even would know about such a trifling column – I stammered something about being happy to wait my turn. I thought that was the end of it.

Soon enough, a team of city workers arrived with a young Norway Maple, an excellent street tree, hardy to urban conditions like salt and pollution. It was expertly planted and even included a special tube inserted into the ground for watering deep by the roots. The next day a public works truck came by with an industrial-strength water tank, giving my tree a hearty drink. I thanked the workers and asked if they could also water my neighbor’s tree, which was parched and stunted by neglect. The driver glanced at a list on his clipboard. “Nah,” he said. “We don’t have that one on here.”

The author's Norway Maple, in full autumn colors. (Renee Loth/Courtesy)
The author's Norway Maple, in full autumn colors. (Renee Loth/Courtesy)

I nurtured that tree like it was a new pet, and it flourished. But Mayor Menino couldn’t resist ribbing me about it. Whether we saw each other weekly or after an absence of six months, nearly his first words of greeting were invariably about the tree. How’s that tree doin’? Tree good? How’s the tree?

As certain wags have noted, repetition is the soul of wit. Menino always got a laugh out of me when he asked about the tree, so he just kept asking. For 17 years, he kept the tree story next to my name in his extraordinary mental rolodex, pulling it out like he might pull out the name of a child or workplace or street address with thousands of his other constituents. It became our secret language, a shared joke that delighted us both even as I knew he enjoyed seeing me squirm a little.

And it was vintage Tom Menino: Helping out the residents of Boston in matters simple and profound; remembering the smallest details about each individual; making everyone feel special in the light of his attention.

Yesterday morning, I noticed that our maple had put on its brilliant autumn colors seemingly overnight. It stood tall and proud, glowing like a golden torch in the late October sun.


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Renée Loth Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Renée Loth writes about news, politics and architecture for Cognoscenti. Her column appears regularly. She is also the editor of Architecture Boston magazine, and a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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