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Smith: The tiny tree that some in Coffey Park are calling ‘Hope’

The California Army National Guard MPs and the tree in Coffey Park they promised to water, and did. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Cossel)

CHRIS SMITH, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

There’s this little tree.

Jessica and Manny Leduc bought the potted crepe myrtle from Urban Tree Farm last summer and planted it in the yard of their home in Coffey Park. They loved how it looked and so did the neighbors.

Then Coffey Park burned. For days, the Leducs couldn’t get back home but they saw the remains of their home on TV.

“Our yard was a favorite spot for newscasters; there was a flipped car in front of it,” said Jessica, who’s 31 and a first-grade teacher.

From the TV images, it appeared the crepe myrtle was still alive. One day the Leducs did manage to get home. Jessica wanted most of all to irrigate the tree, which she did, with buckets of water she brought in the car.

For days after that, police would not allow anyone into Coffey Park. Jessica fretted for her tree.

Six days after the fire, she drove back and spoke with three California Army National Guardsmen at a roadblock, struggling to convey to them the irrational importance of the survival of the myrtle.

The soldiers — Staff Sgt. Richard Mair, Spc. Thomas Cox and Spc. David Lemus, all of the 270th Military Police Company, 49th Military Police Brigade — shocked her.

Mair of Roseville told her, “We’re going to water your tree, and we don’t want you to worry about it any more.”

The soldiers took Jessica’s cellphone number and immediately began sending her photographic proof that they were keeping their promise.

The military police officers went to the Leducs’ property before and after their long shifts and watered the tree.

“Above and beyond,” Jessica marveled.

Not long after she and Manny were allowed back to what had been their first house, they dug up the 4-foot mytle and returned it to its original pot. They now have it with them at a rental home in Rohnert Park.

When school resumed, Jessica of course told her students at Yulupa Elementary School about the tree and the National Guardsmen. Upon starting work on a program called “American Symbols on Parade,” an idea came to the kids: Could they invite the soldiers to the presentation?

The other day, Mair and Lemus came to Yulupa Elementary. Cox sent a note saying he was sorry he couldn’t make it.

The first-graders flipped. Said Jessica, “They were the happiest I’ve seen since the fire.”

The experience looks to carry her and Manny until they rebuild their home in Coffey Park.

“And,” the teacher said, “I’m going to plant that tree right in the front yard.”

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A PIXAR ANIMATOR, Andrew Atteberry, will join the top-shelf authors and cartoonists who’ll appear at the Schulz Museum on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 9.

Atteberry contributed to Pixar’s acclaimed “Coco” and worked also on “Frozen” and “The Peanuts Movie.”

From 7 to 9 p.m., he’ll take part in a draw-a-thon to raise dollars for fire relief.

Tickets to the “Drawing Strength” benefit are at schulzmuseum.org.

The special event begins at 6 with a conversation by “Pearls Before Swine” creator Stephan Pastis; Brian Fies, who responded to the loss of his Santa Rosa home by drawing the powerful comic, “A Fire Story,” and Christopher Moore, author of “The Serpent of Venice,” “Lamb” and “Fool.”

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.