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Vincent Dispenza enjoys persimmons grown on his 20-year-old Hachyia persimmon tree. Even with birds sharing a few fruit, the tree produces enough fruit to share with friends.

In this month of Thanksgiving, a season to sum up blessings large and small, I’ve been thinking about one of the more dubious assets in my life — a persimmon tree that ranks as one of the homeliest things on our block.

Even the nicest fruit trees aren’t usually much to look at, which is why most homeowners plant them in the backyard. The people who owned our house before us placed the persimmon out front, probably because that’s where the light is best. Even so, our persimmon competes for scraps of sun with a nearby sycamore that towers above it.

Stunted by shade, the persimmon has never really flourished. It produces fruit only every other autumn, which is probably as much work as it can stand. My wife talks about cutting it down, but I change the subject. I feel sorry for homely things just trying to be useful. They remind me of me.

The tree’s looked especially beleaguered this autumn. Caterpillars roosted in its crown, festooning it with cobwebs in time for Halloween. It was a lovely welcome for trick-or-treaters but now seems merely sad.

The tree’s major problem is a crack along its biggest limb, a branch that bears most of the fruit. Persimmons grew as big as baseballs these past few weeks, stressing the weakened branch even more. I wondered if the limb might break before the fruit had time to ripen. Each day, as the persimmons swelled and blushed, maturing to a lovely color somewhere between pumpkin and peach, the limb inched downward, eventually touching the lawn.

That made gathering most of the fruit much easier, sparing my family the annual comedy of seeing the man of the house atop a ladder, possibly about to break his leg for the sake of a harvest.

Pulling out the driveway each morning, I’d spot the tree and be strangely moved by its predicament. The old persimmon’s been strained to the breaking point by its bounty, something I’ve been feeling myself lately.

Because I’m not the wisest guy around, only recently did it occur to me that most of my struggles this year have involved the good that’s come my way. We moved our daughter out of state after she graduated from college, a transition that brought inevitable tugs at the heart. Our son, a high school senior, is applying to several colleges, which creates its own set of anxieties — for him and us. But those struggles come from having two kids healthy and smart enough to be making a future away from us.

That old expression, giving until it hurts, would seem to have its parallel reality, the man faced with the enviable challenge of getting until it hurts — a paradox touching many Americans. We’ll have persimmon muffins for the holiday table, thanks to a tree that, like its owner, is sometimes weighted to the breaking point with plenty.


Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.