A weeping cedar seemed perfect to Jeanne Hard last July, given that she was shopping for a memorial for a beloved family pet. She didn't know that it would turn into a neighborhood shrine.
Caesar, the Hard family beagle, died July 26 at age 5 after running onto Wolfpit Ave. "The canine fence failed us," said Hard. "Caesar darted out to chase after a dog. That was that. The poor man who killed him was just in tears."
So was Caesar's family, and their friends. Lindsey Dell'Isola, 11, a neighbor, loved Caesar; her own dog, Oddball, felt the same way. "Caesar could not go by Oddball's house," Hard said. "It was the most unbelievable thing. He would throw himself down on the ground and he would not move until he got to play with Oddball."
Lindsey asked her mother if there would be a funeral for Caesar. So that evening, Hard, her son Christopher, 14, Anthony Dell'Isola, 13, Linda Dell'Isola, Lindsey and other neighbors gathered along the road to plant the tree. Margery Thompson, the neighbor across the street, gave a eulogy. There were prayers.
It happened that Christopher had made Caesar the topic of a photo essay for a Boy Scout merit badge. A large picture of Caesar was posted on the wall next to the tree. Other pictures hung from the branches.
That was that; except it wasn't. The next day, there were more things on the tree. Neighbors began leaving letters of condolences, or pictures of their own dogs, who loved Caesar. "We had sympathy cards," Hard said. "But mostly what surprised me were the notes from people -- they don't know me. But they would send cards to Caesar's family." Notes were signed ambiguously, as in your neighbors down the street.
"I was even adding notes back," Hard said. "I just thought they were so sweet. Imagine, somebody remembered, when they walked by to go home and take a picture of their pet, or make a card, and had it all together. Because they were covered in plastic so they would stay. It was just the sweetest little neighborhood tribute."
It became something to look forward to, checking the tree to see if there was anything new. Anthony liked to look while he was walking to the bus stop. "All the different letters kept appearing and appearing," he said. "It's good that somebody cares."
"It cheered us up," said Christopher. "To see that he had so many fans that missed him."
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