CARBON HILL – Carbon Hill homeowner Michele Micetich was devastated when she realized her memory-laden ash trees were infested with the emerald ash borer.
The four oldest of the trees were planted by her father, Lou “Bum” Enrietta, in 1949, when Micetich was only 3 years old. She has good memories of learning how to water and take care of them, tying her broom “horse” to the trees’ trunks, playing in the shade of the growing trees and later watching the next generation play and swim under them.
Neighbors always gathered under the shade of the ash trees in Micetich’s yard to watch the Carbon Hill homecoming parade.
And now the trees, 12 in all, would have to go.
But after thinking on it, Micetich found a way for the trees to stay with her. Using mostly groups of local craftsmen, she had the trees taken down and turned into flooring for her home – the same family home that was there more than six decades ago when the trees were first planted.
“I could not bear to see them standing there dead,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to lose them, and they were glorious for my gardens. ... I just thought they were forever, and they weren’t. It was like a person who died.”
Today, Micetich, a local historian and former teacher, has the memories of the trees right there with her in her home, rich and glowing, a reminder of her own family history.
“Mostly for me,” she said, “there’s a story there, and I wanted to keep the story going. And the trees belong in that story.”
Micetich’s home, built in the 1870s, was moved to the area from Shermanville, a community just north of Springfield. In 1947, her father paid $1,000 for it and had it moved to the lot that was her great-grandfather’s garden.
“Back then,” Micetich said, “all the miner houses were moved place to place.”
There was no plumbing or electricity to worry about when moving those homes. Various rooms were added to the Carbon Hill house over the years, and the family even rented it out for a while.
Through the years, Micetich has turned the home into a beautiful reminder of family and local history.
“There’s nothing new in here except the floors,” she said with a smile.
When the house was moved onto the lot, there were no trees, and her father set about to plant ash.
“Ash trees then were a really good town tree because of their shape,” Micetich said, “and they gave really good shade. ... Elms and ash were what people planted.”
It was about five years ago that she noticed something strange about her trees.
“I thought it must have had a kind of bark disease,” she said. “Then I started seeing limbs up high dying off.”
When she learned the trees were infested with the emerald ash borer, she was devastated. The insect has destroyed virtually all of the area’s ash trees in recent years.
“I was in denial,” she said, “but I knew it was coming. ... Once I faced that things change, I focused on what could come next. There’s a power in letting go. It’s the most freeing thing in the world, but you can’t see it at the beginning.”
As she researched the matter, she learned that ash wood is very strong. It’s used in baseball bats, she said, and is also quite beautiful.
At that time, she was also considering what to do with her floors. It was time for the carpeting to go, and the idea of using wood from her trees for her flooring seemed like a natural.
She had the trees cut down in 2015 by the local Future Tree Services, and a professional from Pana, Tom Carr, brought his portable mill to the property and cut them into planks. After the trunks and limbs were cut, they were stacked and dried for more than a year. They ranged from 10- to 4- feet in length and varied in width.
Some were cut in flooring dimensions, and Micetich had others cut for future bookshelves and a mantlepiece.
After drying, local carpenter Mike Groves planed them smooth and tongue-and-grooved them. Local flooring installer Chad Shenberg stained and finished them and installed them in Micetich’s home last April.
“They went down,” she said, “and they were just gorgeous.”
Micetich chose a light stain, “weathered oak,” and a protective top coat that was not shiny, but that gave a warm glow to the wood. There are even a few planks where you can see the squiggle tracks of the borer.
It was not cheap to have the trees made into flooring, she admitted, but it wasn’t cost-prohibitive, either. Someone who could do the work themselves would have a much less expensive product, she said.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling,” she said. “I feel like they came home. They were outside, and now they’re inside.”
Micetich had this reply when asked how her father would feel about the project.
“I think he’d be laughing his head off,” she said, “because nobody else would have this crazy idea. But he would have liked it.”