As the director of the Maspeth Town Hall Save-a-Tree Program I organized many activities centered around trees. Our volunteers would go out on Grand Avenue and clear the street tree pits of weeds, litter and remove dead branches. We put plays on for children about the life of a street tree and encouraged people to plant trees to make our community greener and healthier.
For Christmas in 1982, my family wanted to celebrate with a living tree instead of the usual cut ones, something that would live on long after the holidays were over. We suggested planting it at a spot in front of Town Hall to the president at the time, Lena DiConza, and she thought it would be a good idea.
On a cold January day in 1983 with the help of the preschool class, the little three-foot tree was planted. Teacher Joan Wedding and I got the kids singing some Christmas songs and a tradition was born.
Each year as the tree grew taller it would be decorated for the holidays. Soon the tree would be as tall as Town Hall and the Maspeth FDNY firehouse would have to come with the fire truck ladder to turn the lights on! As the lights were lit each year, some songs were sung and then the crowd would go indoors for performances by local talented children and refreshments were served to all.
I am sad to report that the little tree we planted decades ago, which brought so much joy to the community, had to be removed in September. Of all the trees planted around the perimeter of the building, it was the Christmas tree’s roots that were found to have been responsible for structurally harming Town Hall’s foundation and pipes, causing leaks, and for that I am sorry. It’s hard to predict what can happen in 30 or 40 years and trees can live many years beyond that.
The problems trees may cause are far outweighed by their positives. Trees purify our air by removing pollution and generating oxygen. They give us shade from the sun, absorb rainwater, provide homes and food sources for wildlife and beautify our streets and parks.
This tree also gave us a symbol for the community to gather by during the holidays and brought us together for a happy occasion. I hope we can find another suitable tree so that we can carry on this tradition in the future.