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Marsh Street tree topples, takes family’s memories with it

SALISBURY — Rex Boner went into his backyard Tuesday morning to retrieve the remains of a beloved swing that sat trapped under the toppled tree that used to hold it.

Half of the willow oak fell down Monday evening, taking the swing, shade and its dominating presence in the Boners’ backyard on West Marsh Street with it.

Rex had been in the backyard investigating the swing situation earlier that same afternoon. He and his wife, Joyce, had noticed the swing was getting lower and lower over time, and they were hoping to cut off the cracked branch holding it and move the swing to a different one.

But when the couple went out to eat Monday, they received two phone calls from neighbors alerting them to a problem. Half of the tree had fallen across their backyard. Despite the tree’s impressive size, the fall left no significant damage.

“Anybody could’ve been out there,” Joyce said.

Instead, the fall only “pruned” nearby crape myrtles and rose bushes and took out some fencing and irises in the backyard.

“I’m trying to make myself feel better about losing the tree,” Joyce said.

The couple described the tree as “magnificent” and “iconic.”

The top branches of the tree, which stood much taller than the house, used to frame the house from the front like a halo. The family was hoping to save what was still standing, but the decay in the main tree is such that the final half of the oak is set to be taken down.

Jason Shehan, whose company A1 Tree and Lawn Inc. is working on the downed oak, put the tree’s size into perspective, saying he stretched his hand into a hole in the trunk from 2 to 21/2 feet before reaching the other side. Shehan and his co-workers will work on the oak for three or four days, which he said is unusual for one tree.

For the Boners, the oak was more than one tree. Their seven grandchildren used to calculate who would get the most time in the tree swing. One of them would wake up early so she could have her Grandpa Rex push her in the swing while her competition was still sleeping.

“I love that tree,” Joyce said. “When people come to the house and they walk through, I say, ‘Look at my tree.'”

Joyce joked that she had already been memorializing the tree before its fall, with pictures on her phone. However, the couple insist that the importance of the tree extends beyond and behind them into the history of other families and the city.

The Boners moved to Salisbury from Atlanta four years ago, and Joyce told Rex to “get out your billfold” after she saw the tree. Rex estimated the tree had its roots on the property for 100 years — before the house was built in 1925. The previous family who lived in the house must have also enjoyed it since they left the tree swing behind, the Boners said.

They are using what they can of the tree’s remains. Rex is keeping some of the wood for firewood and is hoping to make a picnic table for his family, if there is enough solid wood left. Some of the wood will go to Randy Eliam’s firewood ministry that provides wood to people in need.

The Boners have been deliberating what kind of tree they will plant next, but it will probably be an oak.

“It meant a lot to us in a lot of ways,” Joyce said.

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