The Wedding Trees
History comes full-circle
Photo by Rana Faure
“It was destiny,” says Ruth Fischbach, seated in the comfortable living room of her home, Apple Hill, overlooking the Titicus Reservoir in North Salem.
She and her husband Gerry bought the ten-acre property in May 2012. The 1850s house came with a history. Tradition has it that when New York City was about to flood the original village of Purdys to create the reservoir, P.T. Barnum leant his circus elephants to help move some of the houses to higher ground. Apple Hill is said to have been one of them.
Edward “Jiggers” Zeitlin and his wife, Bessie, bought it and moved there from Yorktown in 1958. Over many years, it was the place where the family gathered, where Ruth Zeitlin married Gerald Fischbach in 1962. At the Zeitlins’ death, the house was sold. After another 20 years, the new owners put the property back on the market.
Enter the Fischbachs’ daughter Elissa, an interior designer in Harrison. She had taken her two daughters to a soccer game in Brewster. On the way home, she asked the girls: “Would you like to see my grandma’s house?” When they arrived there, Elissa spotted a realtor’s sign tacked to a post.
Immediately she called her mother. “Mom,” she told Ruth excitedly. “Get up here. Apple Hill is for sale!”
Ruth and Gerry—she, a professor of bioethics at Columbia University; he, a neuroscientist—were not in the least looking for a house. They were happily settled in an apartment in Riverdale and for 30 years had owned a home on Cape Cod where they intended to retire. The parental house was a distant if happy memory. But Elissa was insistent.
“So we made an appointment with the realtor and drove up to the house,” Ruth explains. “We entered through the back door and around the corner I spotted the screened porch. All my life I had wanted one. That was the first tug.”
Although the previous owners had made additions, the place was much the way Ruth and Gerry remembered it. “It was like coming home,” Ruth says. They scheduled a second visit.
Two months of heated discussion ensued and finally the property on the Cape was sold and the purchase of the family homestead concluded. Not a moment too soon, for Ruth and Gerry were determined to celebrate their Golden Wedding on July 8, 2012, in the same spot where they had been married half a century ago.
“I had read on the web about a tradition somewhere in Africa that when trees grow together and their branches intertwine, it is as if they were wed,” Ruth says. They had been married at the foot of a giant centuries-old maple tree. Very close by are another ancient maple and a copper beech, their branches touching. “These were our wedding trees,” says Ruth. ”They had witnessed our union, and now it was time for them to be wed.”
She invented the ceremony. A long golden braid was wound to unite the trunks of the maples and the beech, and the 12 grandchildren decorated it with flowers and paper ornaments they had made. Ruth distributed toy soap bubble bottles with blowers to the assembled guests. Then gazing up into the trees, she spoke: “You who have steadfastly stood here for so long and watched over us, may you continue to thrive together as we have, and give us faith in our future.” Then she began blowing bubbles upward and everyone followed. “It was a very emotional moment,” she explains.
The ceremony was capped by seven-year-old granddaughter Molly reading a poem that Bessie Zeitlin wrote when she was 85, “My Trees at Apple Hill.”
by Jo Lynne Wood Wood
Two trees near to each other stood
when they were young and life was new.
Their limbs reach out and their branches entwine
and thus together they grew.
Their roots spread out down under the ground
joining one with the other.
So, from the top in the sky to the heart
in the earth, the two were joined together.