In 1890 Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States. Here in Rockland electricity was a promising idea that had yet to arrive. Homes were heated with wood or coal. Our city was driven by lime burning and ship building.

A new house was built on a piece of land between Chestnut and Gay Street. All the lumber arrived by horse-drawn wagon. It would be seven years before another house would appear on the tiny lane with no official name, referred to as Ame’s place. Many years later the tiny street would receive a Latin name, Admontem Avenue. Admontem, according to niece Maureen the Latin scholar, means “to the mountain.”

On this land were three majestic horse chestnut trees, three apple trees, a tiny spruce seedling and some maples.

When we moved in we found the apple trees to be beautiful, especially in the spring and fall. The apples themselves were never good and the only one who ever ate them turned out to be a moose.

In time the apple trees had to come down.

Last summer that spruce tree which had been so tiny more than 100 years ago had grown to be more than 100 feet tall. It could be seen a mile away at Oceanside High School. The torrential rains over the last two years caused the roots to lose their grip, and the tree to leaned ominously over the neighbor’s ranch style house. We had professionals take it down and grind the stump. We replaced it with a katsura tree, lovingly gifted to us by Joanne’s brother Bob and his wife Gail.

One of the three horse chestnut trees remained when we moved in. (I knew of the other two from old photos from the 40s).

The remaining chestnut is on the west side of the house about 20 feet from the kitchen. Early on, a voice in my head gave the tree a name: Grandfather. A good name for a beautiful tree that had dominion over our home and backyard.

As much as we love Grandfather, he has a few bad habits. He has even been called a “dirty tree” by some. Starting in the spring his branches sprout buds that get surrounded by pretty blossoms that mature and drop to the ground. They are very sticky and get all over the back steps. In the fall he grows large prickly balls with the horse chestnuts inside them. You do not want to be hit in the head when they drop. In Grandfather’s heyday I have raked and weighed more than 400 pounds of husks and chestnuts at the Rockland Dump.

Over the years Grandfather has had a couple of surgeries to remove limbs that split from his trunk. It keeps him standing and lessens the amount of trash he leaves behind. His good friends in the squirrel posse help us out by lugging the chestnuts off to wherever they hoard them. Last fall for the first time in 30 years we had so many squirrels that every single chestnut disappeared.

Yay!

These days Grandfather has an OG look and some backyard bling. He wears a wind chime and a large round thermometer like the big clock that Flavor Flav wears around his neck. Nestled at his feet is a statue that many would guess is Saint Francis.

They would be wrong.

It is Saint Alfonso, the patron saint of the pancake breakfast, with his batter bowl. Many years ago I found him set to one side inside the hopper room at the dump.

It is a fair question at this point to ask who will outlive who; Grandfather or me. In either case the survivor will be in the good hands of my grandchildren Anthony, Max and Easton.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Grandfather and St. Alfonzo. Photo by Glenn Billington