Johnson City resident Lawrence Ford had a nutty surprise earlier this month when his nephew pointed out a woody offshoot growing on a tree outside his home.
The 30-foot maple had a 4-inch knob near its base that reminded the 88-year-old World War II veteran of a certain part of the human anatomy.
“It’s a male tree, there’s no doubt about that,” Ford, known to friends as “Timer,” said Friday with a chuckle. “I’ve mowed around that tree for a long time, and never did I notice that thing. But it’s there, plain as the nose on your face.”
The tree’s odd growth stumped him. He’d never seen anything like it in his life, which for Ford is saying something.
In his formative years, Ford and his two brothers enlisted in the U.S. Navy and were stationed on ships in the Pacific theatre.
All three Ford brothers were steaming toward Okinawa, Japan, in 1945 to take part in the ferocious battle referred to as the “typhoon of steel” when allied forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the Japanese surrender and keeping the Fords from being possible casualty statistics.
Upon coming back to the states, the youthful Ford bought a Harley and started a 70-year criss-cross of North America.
With rumbling steel thunder between his legs, he’s been above the Arctic Circle and toured the famed Route 66.
Ford’s workshop, where he stores his current Harley a few doors down from his Chapman Street home, is decorated with decades of motorcycle memorabilia, including a plaque awarded to him in 1990 celebrating his 20,200th mile logged.
Hung next to a panoramic photo of a 1940s-era gathering of hundreds of bikers in Asheville, N.C., is a photograph of the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and a framed Apollo 11 mission patch.
When asked about the space-race souvenirs, Ford isn’t shy about sharing stories of his machinist work for the Sperry Farragut Co. in Bristol where his extremely accurate work on military missile guidance systems helped send the pictured men to the moon and bring them safely back to Earth again.
Even with enough experiences to last three lifetimes, the protruding stub in his front yard tickled him in ways he’d never imagined.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it,” Ford said. “It just grew like that. I’ve never heard tell of anything like this before — have you?”
Now that the naked reality of the tree has taken root, he’s trying to figure out how to keep his wife, Cleo, from noticing it.
“I haven’t showed it to her,” he said. “I don’t think it would really be appropriate for a woman to see.”
For now, Ford said he’ll stick to keeping it a secret between him and his nephew — and newspaper subscribers all over the region.