Quite possibly the only pear tree in downtown Knoxville recently disappeared from the small green space between Kendrick Place and the Masonic Temple. After years of treatment for blight, it finally became so diseased that it had to be removed, though it didn’t go quietly or without fanfare. It turns out the tree had a bit of contentious and even literary history behind it.
While its blossoms splashed the spring time sky with vibrant color, in the fall its pears splashed the historic brick beneath it with slippery, messy, decayed fruit. Some residents of Kendrick Place wanted to cut it down a while back. The story, documented more fully here, with a follow-up here, was one of the first online articles I found about downtown living when Urban Woman and I struggled with our decision to move to the center city.
It appears that in 2009, at least one resident asked for the tree to be put on the agenda for the next homeowners meeting. Anticipating a request to cut the tree down, when the agenda item was called, Gay Lyons read the poem “Pears” by Judy Loest. Judy, a former resident of Kendrick Place had written the poem in response to a similar previous discussion. After hearing the beautiful tribute to the tree read aloud, the topic of its removal ceased to be an issue.
In subsequent years, the tree became beloved, but blighted. And so it was, that on a recent day in November, a small crowd gathered to say farewell to a semi-famous tree. Organized by Gay Lyons, the event featured Pear Bellinis for a final toast and a reading of the poem by author, downtown resident and friend of Kendrick Place, Judy Loest. Neighbors from Kendrick Place were joined by a number of downtown friends including Cynthia Moxley who published the stories noted above on her Blue Streak blog, Andie Ray former owner of Vagabondia and long-time downtown resident (now in Old North), Cynthia Markert, downtown artist, and others.
Pear Bellinis (Cocktail created by Gay Lyons):
I can pears
Poire (Mathilde Pear liqueur)
Unpeeled pear slices
Freeze pears and their liquid overnight. Let thaw. Smush pears in liquid until slushy. Add at least a cup of Poire to pear slush–to desired consistency and potency. Mix well. To serve, pour thawed pear slush into champagne flute about 1/3 way. Fill flute the rest of the way with prosecco. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and a pear slice.
The brief event was a fun way to say goodbye to a tree. No one cried or made a speech. There was laughter. New neighbors, Sonia and Allen, were introduced and other topics of downtown life interlaced conversation about the tree. The toast was made, the poem read and old friends shared a few moments together in the late autumn dappled sunlight.
But something more sat just beneath the surface for probably more than one of us. The fact that this improbable tree grew in an unlikely place and hung on tenaciously for as long as it did, stands as a testament to perseverance. Its life in the city and ultimate demise mirrors our own. It’s not a long leap from the departure of a tree to thoughts of our own final days. We live and love in this city and then, inevitably, we are gone. In the time we are given, will we add enough beauty to the city that we deserve to be remembered like the pear tree?