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Memories and Musings: Where’s Paul Bunyan?

After my two-year stint in the Navy and after Pat and I lived in a Buffalo apartment for two years – during which time our daughter, Lisa, was born – we decided to build a house in West Seneca, New York. We found the plan and builder we liked, signed the papers and soon building began in West Seneca’s Teresa Court.

After teaching sixth grade all day in neighboring Orchard Park, it was a daily routine to check on the progress of our three-bedroom, two-car garage, raised ranch, future home.

After what seemed like forever, the long-awaited day finally arrived when, with the help of several teaching friends, Pat, Lisa and I moved into our new house with the sloping driveway, small maple tree (courtesy of the VA) and grassless back yard. It was directly across the street from a gray, two-story, four-bedroom colonial that had a tall, scraggly tree between it and a raised ranch next to it. It was hard to determine on whose property the tree sat. Little did I know that that scraggly maple would become the catalyst for a memorable neighborhood event.

We met our next door neighbor Joyce soon after her daughter Jamie knocked on our door and, when I answered, said, “You got any kids?” (Joyce is still a long-distance friend.)

Our lives changed dramatically for the good when the Caputos from Brooklyn moved into the gray colonial directly across the street. Toni and Joe quickly became dear friends as did their three daughters with our daughters, Lisa and our toddler second child Tara.

We had many chuckles over the Caputos’ Brooklyn accent and learned several new expressions: “chance apiece” (take turns), “stand on line” (line up) and “Jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?).

One weekend morning, I noticed Joe and his brother-in-law Richie talking with Joe’s next door neighbor Larry about the “ugly rotting tree” between their houses. So, naturally, I had to cross the street and join in the conversation. My mistake! I learned quickly that I was involved in their plan to chop down the tree.

Aside from the obvious obstacles — there were sheds in both back-neighbors’ yards that could be crushed — Joe had worked out what seemed like a doable plan for felling the tree “between” his and Larry’s houses.

Naturally, news of our lumberjack plan got around the neighborhood, so on the early Saturday morning of our “feat,” we had an audience. (It still surprises me that our neighbors had nothing better to do.)

The plan began with Larry, with his extension ladder, climbing and looping a long, heavy rope about two-thirds up the tree; the dangling ends were to be guide ropes . . . according to the plan. I was designated as the “guider” by Larry’s house and Richie had the guide-rope end by Joe’s.

Using a chainsaw — also, Larry’s — Joe cut a large notch in the road side of the tree. Then, with me and Richie in position holding our guide ropes, Joe cut the fatal “slice” opposite the notch while Richie and I pulled on our rope ends.

A loud crackling sound erupted and the tree started to lean perfectly straight back, according to plan. I didn’t know Richie had panicked, let go of his rope and ran, so I kept pulling on mine.

Down came the tree, and thanks to my pulling and Richie’s panic attack, our team and all the spectators watched with gaping mouths as the falling tree stripped most of the siding off Larry’s house. We had an unscheduled “Moment of Silence!”

Larry, Joe, Richie and I remained friends. Sadly, Joe crossed the Rainbow Bridge many years later. Upon reflection, I’m certain all of us looked toward the heavens that day and asked, “Where was Paul Bunyan when we needed him?”

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.

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