2003 Anne Horton Writing Award
Honorable Mention - Narrative/Descriptive
" Tree Man"
Robert W Lynn Jr.
As I pulled up outside Gordon's house, memories flooded my mind of days gone by. I walked up the sidewalk that I helped pour twenty years ago and thought to myself how things have changed and how I have changed. but not really. It seemed like just yesterday I was over at his house getting the trucks and saws ready for the day's work. I met Gordon while I was in high school. A friend of mine referred me to hint for a job because Gordon had told him that he needed some extra help for all of the jobs he had lined up. and I needed some spending money. Gordon is the owner of his own tree service and the only one in the small town of Morrison where we live. He not only cuts trees but also does just about anything else a person could think of with the equipment he has. He is the best tree man I have ever worked for and boasts on his business card, "No tree too large," and "A notch above them all." This man has over thirty-five years experience in the tree business, and anyone that has ever seen him use a chainsaw to take down a huge tree in an awkward place would agree that he is the best at what he does.
Now as I enter the house that has taken him so long to get to where he is almost satisfied with it, I finally realize that his perfectionist ways have paid off and given him a beautiful home. As usual Gordon is off somewhere in the house doing something so I sit down and strike up small talk with his wife Mary and son Jim while I wait fir him. Finally Mary says she heard a door and that he must have come out of the basement. As he enters the door from the garage to the dining room. I can not help but notice that this man has hardly changed in twenty years. He still looks like the man I worked for in high school, same hair cut, same weight and not really looking much worse for the wear. Gordon is a big burly man with thick dark hair, a big cheesy smile and a gleam in his eye. He walks gingerly for a big man because of a terrible automobile accident that left his legs severely damaged before I meet him.
Gordon grew up in Morrison, one of three kids in a poor household, with a strict father and a quiet mother, and he learned at a young age if he wanted something, he was going to have to go out and get it himself As a child he had five different paper routes at one time, and the first thing he went out and bought with the money he earned was a Howdy Doody lamp that cost him $4.95, which was a lot of money back then. In fact, he was devastated when pop went from five cents to ten cents in 1955. Later when he was old enough to drive, he held the record in town for filling up his Cadillac's gas tank for $5.35 when gas was 11.9 cents a gallon. He remembers people saying that someday we would have to pay for water, and they could not have been more right. Even though he was busy with his paper routes, he did all the yard work, took out the trash and even washed the windows around the house.
Although he stayed busy as a kid, he always found time for his favorite sports like baseball, basketball, football, and pool. He remembers shooting two to three hundred free throws a day, rain or shine, and having a free throw percentage of 79%. He once made thirty-five free throws in a row and thought that was pretty good, until his friend John VanOsdol beat that with thirty-six. In high school he recalls a rivalry that is still alive today between Morrison and Fulton in a game we won in the final seconds with the basketball going around the rim several times before falling through the hoop as time expired. His sports heroes included the likes of Mohammed Ali, known as Cassias Clay back then. Ernie Banks and local stock car drivers John Star and Benny Holfer. He was also a big fan of Howard Cosell and said, "Howard was not a man of color but a very colorful person." Presently he is a big fan of Michael Jordan and Darrel Waltrip, who he met recently. He has also met Tony George who owns the Indianapolis speedway. I can still remember when I went with him to pick up a piece of equipment in Indiana, and we stopped by the speedway while the time trials for the Indy 500 were taking place. In typical Gordon fashion, he got us into gasoline alley which is one of the hardest places to get into at Indy if you do not know someone or have a special pass, neither of which we had. The word can't is not in Gordon's dictionary.
Growing up in Morrison, Gordon and his friends Bill, Dave and Gene sounded more like little hoodlums than what you might call All-American boys. If nothing was happening in town they made their own fun playing pranks on other kids and town folk. Most of their pranks included fireworks or some kind of big explosive device. They once dynamited a huge billboard, and there was no sign safe from them in town. Even the town police officer got eggs thrown inside of his car. Gordon, and his best friend Gene, once put 219 miles on his car in one night and never left Morrison. If they were not blowing up things or hanging out on the local street corner, they were drag racing and putting bleach under their back tires to see who could do the best smoky burn out. Gordon himself was particularly proud of his car, a 1957 Chevy two-door hardtop with a Pontiac four-speed and a race engine, which I am sure did more than its share of racing and burn outs. Any time his dad heard police sirens, he wondered what sort of trouble Gordon and his friends were in now. Drive-in movies were big then, and they could buy a case of beer for $2.39, so even if there was not much to do in Morrison they could always make their own fun.
Gordon grew up in a time of flat tops and ponytails when they used words like groovy, neat, cool, in, uptight and hip. The songs that played on the radio that were among his favorites were Three Coins in a Fountain, Yellow Rose of Texas, and Blueberry Hill. The hula-hoop and wiffleball had just made a debut and everyone thought automatic windshield washers, automatic transmissions, push button radios and the car's generator evolving into the alternator were the best things to happen to the automobile in a long time. He remembers President Kennedy and Martin Luther King getting killed. The cure for polio was discovered, and they got their first 'IV. Pen pals were big, and Gordon had one from Japan but did not correspond the way he should have or would have liked to. The CB radio and hand-held calculators had just been invented and he remembers how expensive they were back then as compared to how cheap they are now. The big social problem of the time was segregation, and he was shocked when a classmate of his got a girl pregnant and he stayed in school. Gordon said, "Back in those days, you quit school, got ajob and got married."
The place in Morrison to hang out was the coliseum where they had what everyone called the teenage hide-a-way. The Spot Tavern, the Office Tap, Red's Tap or just hanging out on Main Street were popular also. When they were not hanging around in Morrison, they were spreading their wings to Missouri and California. Closer to home, on the weekends they would go to Rock Falls to K's Corner for chicken, the White House in Dixon or various county fairs. Rockford's Cherry Valley was also a popular destination on the weekend, and one of the favorite pastimes was going to Sterling to the Speed Bowl, which was a stock car track located on the West Side of Sterling. This is where Gordon met his wife Mary. They dated, he proposed and they got married, had two wonderful children Julie and Jimmy and as Gordon put it, "The rest is history."
So in the early 60's, after trying his hand at many different occupations such as working at the steel mill, a construction company, a chemical factory and farm work, he realized that his hobby of cutting firewood was his true calling. He started out very small with just a chainsaw, a ladder and a pick-up truck and did small jobs around Morrison for friends and the elderly people he knew. As he got better at cutting the trees down and perfecting his patented clean up system, he got comfortable enough to start charging people for his expertise, and that is how Bramm Tree Service was born. Today he has the most equipment of anyone in the business. His newest piece of equipment, a state of the art Vermeer stump grinder that literally eats stumps up in minutes, is his pride and joy. He has a complete tree service of topping, trimming, complete removal, stump removal, seasoned firewood, timber clearing, railroad ties, wood chips and an aerial capacity of 140 feet. I do not know anyone that takes more pride in his work than Gordon Bramm.
As I got ready to leave, I remembered a question I had asked earlier in our conversation. `Back when you were twenty years old, what were your plans for the future?' His answer was just as ordinary as the next person's would be. He gave me the five most common answers to that question, and I am sure that this is what just about everyone wishes. They were to have a nice family, a nice home, a nice car, a good job and to be able travel. All of which, from where I stood the man has accomplished in a very dignified and timely manner. As I left his house that day for church, I thanked him for his time, which is something he takes very seriously, and as I walked to my car,thought of how much I respected him and the work ethic he taught me so many years ago.