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May 1, 2010 by Steven Worden

The Lucky Plum Tree

By Steven Worden
I think Leonard Kraemer likes trees.  A retired pastor of German stock with a fringe of hair living in a “scrubby-Dutch” clean house, he loves discussing the various types of magnolia trees or the superiority of pine trees over oak trees.

Although he looks like he needs only a long-stemmed clay pipe to have stepped out of Washington Irving’s Hudson Valley, as a savvy gardener, he can tell you how one shade tree can provide oxygen for ten people.  Or, he can tell you that such a tree pumps 75-100 gallons of water into the air in a day, or that a full-grown shade tree removes a quarter of a pound of dust particles from the air every day.  The man likes trees.

Now retired, Mr. Kraemer also likes to recall his long career with the United Church of Christ serving multi-ethnic urban congregations.  But, when I casually asked Mr. Kraemer if he saw a connection between his love of trees and plants with spirituality, I almost thought I saw him visibly wince.

“Some people see vibrations or go to a symphony and say that they heard God.  I’ve never had that experience.  I make demands on things and there has to be logic.  I don’t see Jesus on a screen door because someone spilled some Coke on it.” 

True to his German heritage, Leonard prides himself on his cool-eyed logic, rationality, and an unwavering belief in order. No froo-froo mysticism for the precise Mr. Kraemer. 

Yet an odd series of coincidences still puzzles Mr. Kraemer. When he was young, his father, who also loved trees, especially plums, decided to order a plum tree through the mail.  But the frugal Kraemers did not squander money on a five to seven year-old plum tree; a two-year old plum tree from Stark’s Nursery would do. The Kraemers would wait an extra two or three years until it bore fruit.

Much to their surprise, after a few years, it began bearing apples.  Now as it turned out, the elder Mr. Kraemer became diabetic and his wife Margaret canned the apples from the plum tree for him because luckily its fruit was of an especially low sugar variety, the Grime’s Golden.

Coincidentally, the church they attended had a wealthy member, Mrs. Taylor, who came from Breslau, Germany, Mrs. Kraemer’s hometown.  Because of their shared roots, Mrs. Taylor became friends with Mrs. Kraemer.

Once, as they talked, Mrs. Taylor spoke of her sister’s diabetes.  Mrs. Kraemer told her that Mr. Kraemer was similarly afflicted with diabetes and that she canned Grime’s Golden apples for him.  Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Kraemer began canning apples for both her husband and Mrs. Taylor’s sister, a practice she kept up for many years.  All she asked in return was to get the canning jars back.

A few years later, when Leonard Kraemer graduated high school, he was torn between a career as musician in a big band or going to college.  As there was no money to send him to college, he decided to tour with a band.  But, shortly after Leonard mentioned to a retired pastor that he would have liked to have been able to study to become a pastor, himself, Mrs. Taylor learned of his financial difficulty. 

Mrs. Taylor told him, “If you want to go to college for one year, I will pay for it.  If you still like it after that one year, I will pay for you to go to college for three more years.”  Leonard went on to college, graduated, and even attended a music conservatory before being ordained and spending his life as a pastor.

Logical, rational, no-nonsense Leonard Kraemer stared at me, with his blue eyes shining, “Was there a spiritual thing in that, you think?  A tree that was supposed to be a plum tree that turned out to be an apple tree, a couple of steps, a couple of jars and my whole life developed right there.  Was that a spiritual thing or not?”

Steven Worden

PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas

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