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U3A Writing: The Pear Tree

...Startled, Nana stared at her fourteen year old granddaughter. "What did you say, dear?" she asked.

"I said Dad's got the axe in the car," Belinda answered. "He said when he comes back he's going to chop down your old tree today. Said it's an eyesore and needs to come down."...

Ah but there's many a tale can save a threatened tree as Annette de Jong's delicious tale reveals.

Startled, Nana stared at her fourteen year old granddaughter. "What did you say, dear?" she asked.

"I said Dad's got the axe in the car," Belinda answered. "He said when he comes back he's going to chop down your old tree today. Said it's an eyesore and needs to come down."

Flicking her long dark hair back as she leaned over the newly baked muffins, Belinda sniffed appreciatively at the sweet-smelling steam rising from them, unaware of the change her statement had created in her grandmother.

Drat that son of mine, Nana thought. Since his father died he always thinks he knows what's best for me. Well, I don't want my old pear tree chopped down.

She sighed and wiped her hands on her apron. Next he'll be wanting me removed too. Too old to live here alone now Dad has gone, he'll say. I'll be more comfortable in a retirement home, he'll tell me. And just like the pear tree I'll be uprooted and expected to go without so much as a whimper.

Her lips set in a determined line. Well, I'm not going. And neither is that pear tree. That pear tree and me, we're here to stay until I say differently!

Pouring the contents of a mixing bowl into two cake tins Nana slid them into the oven and glanced up, her attention momentarily taken by a print on the wall behind her granddaughter. The scene was of a muscular, dark haired man felling trees in the bush while his young wife and baby sat under a tree nearby and watched him.

Looking at her granddaughter she asked innocently "Did anyone ever tell you the story about the pear tree?"

Belinda shook her head.

"Well to me it was the greatest love story, ever," Nana said, sitting on the stool next to Belinda. "Better than any of those Jane Austen novels you love to read."

"Oh, Nan," laughed Belinda.

Nana tapped Belinda's arm. "Well, just you listen and make up your mind," she said. Her gaze flicked to the print on the wall and back to her granddaughter.

"Did you know your grandfather and I were childhood sweethearts?" Nana said.

Belinda shook her head.

Nodding, Nana glanced back at the print. "This area was all bush when we moved here just after we were married, and your grandfather built this house with his bare hands." She sighed. "Yes, our little love nest, he called it. And when your father was born twelve months later your grandfather planted that pear tree as a token of his love. It was the most romantic, the best present I've ever had," she said softly.

"What! That old pear tree?" Belinda looked out the window at the tree.

"It's what it symbolizes dear," Nana said. "Your grandfather always believed that while ever that tree grew, so did our love - and so it did."

"Oh, Nan. That is so-o-o romantic." Belinda's eyes were moist.

"Of course the tree was quite small when your grandfather planted it, but it did have one tiny pink blossom on its frail little branch."

Nana touched Belinda's arm. "Now, upstairs, in my wardrobe, is our family photo album and pressed between its pages is a tiny faded blossom," she said. "It's that first little pear tree flower. If you promise to look after it, I'll entrust it to you for safe keeping."

"Oh, Nana, thank you. I will look after it." Belinda hugged her grandmother. "I'll go and get it now."

Nana looked up as her youngest grandson slouched into the kitchen.

"Nana, I'm bored," he complained. "When will Daddy be back? I want to go home. There's nothing to do here."

Nana smiled at her seven year old grandson. His fine brown hair had fallen over his forehead, hiding the freckles there.

"Bored, are you?" she said. "Well come have some milk and cake and I'll tell you a story.''

"I'm not a baby. You don't need to tell me stories," he said belligerently.

Nana hid a smile. "No indeed, Dennis," she said. "This story is about the bushrangers that used to live in these parts."

Dennis glanced up, his face brightening. "There used to be bushrangers here, Nana?"

"Yep, there sure were. Lightning Jack and his gang used to roam these parts." Smiling, Nana patted the stool near her. "Come and sit here and I'll tell you all about them," she said.

"Now, nobody knows for sure, but some say Lightning Jack became a bushranger when he was put in jail on trumped-up charges." Then, remembering her grandson's love of animals she added "And while he was in jail there was no-one to look after his farm animals and they all died of hunger and thirst." Dennis gasped. "Well, you can imagine, after that he really hated the law," Nana added. Dennis nodded. He understood.
"He was a real Robin Hood bushranger, robbing the rich to give to the poor. All the people loved him but the troopers hated him because they couldn't catch him and that made them look real bad."

"Well, one day, Lightning Jack and some of his gang were riding along when what do they see but a group of black uniformed troopers riding along looking for them."

Dennis' eyes widened. "Did the troopers see them Nana?"

"Oh, yes, young Dennis, and a great shout went up from the troopers when they did. The chase was in open country and, lying flat over their horse's neck, the horsemen all rode like the wind." Slapping her hand to her side Nana leaned forward emulating the riders. Strands of grey hair escaped from behind her ears and she quickly brushed them back.

"Now, the bushrangers were riding mountain ponies and everyone knows mountain ponies are bred tough with strong hearts that just won't give in, but they aren't made for speed in the open country. Those tough little ponies gave it all they had, but the troopers were catching up fast." Nana paused.

"Go on, Nana. What happened?"

"Well, a trooper's bullet hit one of the horses and down went the horse - and down came his rider. But," she added, "quick as a flash Lightning Jack was by his side. Swung him up behind him on his horse and galloped off."

"But he would have slowed Lightning Jack down and the troopers would have caught them," Dennis said.

"Yes, things were looking pretty grim for Lightning Jack."

"But did he get away?" demanded Dennis.

"Well, fortunately, sometime before, an old gold prospector had eaten a pear and spat the pip out." Nana pointed out the window to the pear tree.
"That pip had now grown into a small tree and the two bushrangers were able to take shelter behind the tree, pull their guns and start firing back at the troopers."

"It's not a very big tree," said Dennis, looking suspiciously out at it.

"No," agreed his grandmother. "But it was the only shelter thereabouts at that time and Lightning Jack couldn't afford to be choosy. Anyway, bullets were flying everywhere and the two bushrangers were nearly out of ammunition when all of a sudden, the troopers jumped on their horses and galloped away."

"Yahoo! But why, Nana? Why did they leave?"

"'Cause coming from just over that hill out there were the rest of the bushrangers. They were riding fast to save their leader. They outnumbered the troopers you see, so the troopers rode away."

"Yippee, Lightning Jack was saved." Dennis paused, deep in thought. "So that's why the fruit from the tree is so hard and horrible. It's got lead poisoning!" He thought some more. "Nana, do you think there might be some old bullets still out there?"

Nana shrugged. "I suppose there could be one or two still around the base of the tree."

"I'm going out to have a look now," called Dennis, running out the door.

"And so you don't miss any, it would be a good idea if you pulled out the grass from around the trunk of the tree," his grandmother called after him.

Nana glanced up at the sound of the screen door banging. David, Nan's twelve year old grandson came in like an uncontrolled garden hose and draped his lanky frame over the stool near her. Nana smiled. David's glasses had slid down his thin nose again.

"Look at him," he said half turning toward the window. "He's weird. He's digging around that old tree. Said the bushrangers left bullets there."
Turning toward his grandmother, he asked "Are you sure he is one of us? I think he comes from another planet."

"Well, if he keeps looking he might find..." She shook her head. "No, no, he won't. They said that it would fade. No-one is to know."

Intrigued, David asked "Know what, Nana?"

Nana clamped her hands over her mouth "Oh dear. I've already said too much," she mumbled glancing out of the corner of her eye and studying her grandson. "Oh, I suppose I can tell you, but you must promise not to tell another living soul. Promise?"

David nodded.

Satisfied, his grandmother whispered "One night, about two years ago I was woken by a funny sounding hum. I opened my eyes, sat up and, through my window, saw a big, bright sliver light coming over the hill there," she said, pointing out the window.

"You saw a flying saucer?" David asked in awe. His grandmother nodded.

"Well, I didn't know what it was at the time - couldn't wee what shape it was either because there was such a bright light, like a huge beam coming from it. As it came nearer it completely lit up my house and yard."

David stared at his grandmother.

"David, I was so scared I dived under the covers and tried to hide."

"Go on, Nana. What happened?" he urged.

"Suddenly, as if by a giant unseen hand, the covers were lifted up to the ceiling and I was left exposed and huddled on the bed."

David blinked several times. "Wow!"

His grandmother nodded.

"Then, some mysterious force plucked me off the bed and held me suspended upright just off the floor, and I was propelled through the house and out into the backyard. And there, right over the pear tree was a silver, metal flying saucer, just like you see in pictures. Well, you can imagine, there I was out in the yard, in my pyjamas with all these funny little people with big heads and shiny silver clothes who were all running around the yard. They seemed friendly enough though," she added.

"What did they want?" David leaned forward and his glasses slipped down his nose again.

"They told me the pear tree was being specially magnetized to be used as a beacon. They told me to look after the tree because in the future they were coming back to communicate with an earthling and it could be one of my grandchildren when he is a man." She clapped her hand over her mouth. "Oh, dear. I didn't mean to say that. They may change their mind."

"It's all right, Nana," said David, patting her arm. "If it's going to happen, we both know which of your grandchildren they will be communicating with."

Nana left him to his thoughts as she ran the water in the sink and added the detergent.

"A beacon, eh!" she heard him mutter.

"Here, David," she said moving to the cupboard and rummaging in the odds and ends drawer. "This is a picture of the pear tree after their visit. I'd like you to have the photo. People think it was damaged in a lightning strike, but we know better, don't we?"

Nodding, David took the photo and went outside to compare the print with the tree. "Watch it with that tree," he yelled at his younger brother. "Are you trying to kill it?"

Nana heard the front door opening and her son calling her. "I'm in the kitchen, Trevor," she answered. "Come on in and have a cup of coffee and some freshly baked cake. And while you are here, did I ever tell you about that pear tree and how you were conceived? No? Well, one beautiful, starlit night your father and I..."

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