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  • Writer's pictureSusan Fleming Morgans

Who's the Sap Now?

“Only God can make a tree,” as the dubiously talented Joyce Kilmer preached in the sing-song rhyme many of us recited in elementary school.

But only “fools like me, ” also referenced by Kilmer, would allow a junk maple sapling become a towering house umbrella that annually carpeted our deck with green squiggles and helicopters (you know, the seed pods you stick on your nose). And then, the tree I saved had the nerve to die.

I stuck one of these pesky helicopters on my nose and took a photo, but trust me, you don't want to see it!

When we bought our house in 1982, the landscape bore remnants of a once-beautiful back yard. But the side yard was a muddy mess populated by 30 tiny maples. We cut 29 down and left one, creating a focal point beyond the window of the family room. The tree became a beloved provocateur as it matured and scattered its detritus—and it has continued to plague us long after an acrobatic tree crew hacked and hauled away its withered limbs last spring. Whew, I wrote a big check. And still the stump, about four feet in girth, remained along with yards of huge bulging roots that posed an orthopedic health hazard. It wasn’t easy to find a contractor who specialized in grinding stumps and roots, but we finally did. I wrote another big check.

Acrobatic arborists took the tree down, but we still had to deal with the huge stump and roiling roots.

Then came the fun part—reimagining the space that, minus the monstrous maple, could become a right-sized patio. Having already spent a small fortune, we set out to do it economically. We decided on flagstone with pea gravel and hired a talented guy who worked solo on an hourly basis leveling the ground and creating a jigsaw puzzle of flagstone. That project required three trips to the stone quarry plus labor. Doing things on the cheap was getting expensive.

Next came furniture. Browsing through fancy catalogs was an eye-opener. My wrought iron furniture—about 10 pieces—cost $750 at an estate sale 30 years ago. We have repainted it and replaced cushions over the years, of course. But, “Who in the world would pay $5,000 for a settee, two chairs and a table?” I groused to my husband. So I bought a set that got good reviews online at for $250. The catch was, we had to assemble it.

Ten pieces of this furniture cost $750 at an estate sale 30 years ago. Today, they would probably cost a zillion!

When my purchase arrived, we uncrated the many parts and cheerfully began working to put the set together in the garage. But as the humidity rose, my patience evaporated. The directions—in English but written by a Chinese person—were impossible. All the pieces looked alike. There were three sizes of screws; only the exact numbers were included, and we kept dropping them. The tools, which looked like they were meant for an elf, kept disappearing among the screws. As a result, the first chair took an hour to assemble, and of course we messed up. My husband has arthritis in his thumbs, so it was my job to unscrew everything and screw it back together correctly. I threw a toddler-like tantrum, ran to the kitchen sink and stuck my steaming head under the cold spigot to cool down.

When the heat rose, my patience waned. And my hair doesn't look that good!

It took us five hours to finish, but voila! —the furniture was solid and looked great. Now we needed a cantilevered umbrella and stand (thanks,—we put that together, too) two rugs, outdoor lanterns, plants and decorative pots. I charged my credit card, assuming I had overdrawn the checking account. The water feature and gas fire pit might have to wait a while.

The sweat equity paid off. Our done-on-the cheap patio looks great!

So what did I learn from my dirty-but-venerable tree (other than don’t plant anything larger than a weeping cherry?) I learned why women who are not "fools like me" pay $5,000 for pre-assembled patio furniture: the only thing that worse than assembling furniture with your husband might be driving while he's in the passenger seat juking and wearing out the carpet with his right foot.

And I learned that Joyce Kilmer not only was a terrible poet; he was a nutcase. Thank God we had only one tree!

The only thing worse than putting furniture together is driving with my husband in the passenger seat—or maybe having to recite Joyce Kilmer's "Trees."


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