First Communion Tree

Tree plantings sometimes mark important occasions, such as in the New England tradition of planting a pair of bridal elms in front of the house, signaling the arrival of newlyweds. Coinciding with another sacrament, I remember planting a pear (Pyrus communis) the day my brother Ian received his first communion. Other living commemoratives already grew on the farm. In the front yard, three Montmorency cherries, one for each Heavers kid, were producing well before Ian had his first holy supper. We have outlived our cherries trees, but still draw some lessons from them besides pit spitting contests from the front step. I suppose that if it was only an arboreal legacy our parents were after, they would not have planted stone fruits. The plums and cherries of our childhood have long since gone the way of firewood.

But pears are long-lived and Ian’s is in its third decade in its current location. Unlike the apple trees of the orchard, which we started from seed, a few of the pear trees, including Ian’s first communion tree, were dug when full grown from the woods’ edge. A common seedling, the pear traveled a few hundred yards to its present home, just inside the upper barway of the orchard– a prominent location for an uncommon effort. The tree took well and the next year Pop top-worked it, sawing off a few big limbs, making cleft grafts, and inserting scions from the Road Pear, another significant tree in our lives.

The Road Pear, like its name suggests, grows on the wayside of Route 2, the least celebrated of the town’s commons. The Road Pear may be the only tree left of Heaton’s Orchard in Richmond, Rhode Island, or perhaps delivered by a bird on the wing to sprout where it landed. This tree is no commonplace pear– its thick skin keeps the flesh juicy through March when stored in a cool place. It took well to our transplanted rootstock– and now yields more than any other pear in the orchard. Its true legacy, however, should not be measured in bushels– this heirloom embodies communion.

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