Meet the Elms

by Alan DeNiro

The doctor diagnosed my father with Dutch Elm disease on the day the fall color turned. I was with him at the time of the diagnosis. Considering the news, my father took it calmly. I took him there earlier in the morning after he complained of a slight seizure in his legs.

"Dutch Elm disease," the doctor repeated, shaking his head. "I haven’t seen anything like it."

My father said: "I believe that one of the requisites for contracting Dutch Elm disease is to actually be an elm tree."

The doctor cracked his knuckles. He looked worried. "You would figure that, wouldn’t you? Perhaps you are turning into a tree and you do not realize it."

"But that doesn’t stop the fact that I couldn’t contract it until I turned into a tree," my father said, sounding quite reasonable. "Do you see?"

The doctor gave a shrug, as if to say why argue with science? It’s pointless. I have charts. "All I know is that the fungus ophiostoma ulmi is in your blood stream. Soon you will exfoliate—"

"I’m not a tree!"

"—and then die," the doctor finished. "Although there have been no known cures of the disease per se, we will try some antibiotics. Don’t worry. We’ll run some tests." The doctor flipped back his little flip book.

"Jesus H. Christ," my father muttered. "Get me the hell out of here."

"Can’t do that, sir," the doctor said. "Not quite yet. We need to keep you under, as they say, ‘intense medical scrutiny.’ We have to find the beetles, find the fungus. We’ll call the best specialists in the county, a few tree doctors."The doctor continued, rambling to himself. "Someone in Manitoba. Manitoba has the best Dutch Elm disease prevention program in the world." The doctor winked. "Don’t worry, sir. We’ll nip this thing in the bud."

Dad scowled and scratched his knee.

I stayed with him most of that night. He was accepting of his impending death much more than I was. I lived in downtown Pittsburgh and rushed to the Allegheny rivertown where I grew up when Mom called me, telling me the bad news in a low voice.

"All we have to do is stand close to him," Mom said. "He can gain strength from our emanations."

"Emanations?" I asked.

I then realized Mom was under a lot of stress. In the hospital, Mom came in sporadically. "We’ll get you fixed up in no time," she said, standing next to him.

"I hope so," Dad said. "I’m getting pretty sick of this food."

My Mom smiled and pulled out a half a dozen smiley cookies from Eat N’ Park she picked up. Why not? My father’s smile matched the cookies.

Having two parents who really loved each other made me kind of a freak growing up.