I suppose it could have gone either way – my relationship with trees – could have been love, could have been hate. From the time I was a wee babe, resting in my mother’s arms, I’m fairly certain I was a silent participant in many discussions, ruminations, and heated debates revolving around trees. And, I imagine there were a fair number of tears, earnest requests, ultimatums, “I told you so’s”, and “we have to do somethings” associated with the above communications!
When I was only 3 weeks old, my father uprooted my mother, my sister, and me, and we moved to a new house, in a new subdivision, surrounded by other new subdivisions – all of which had been carved out of corn fields and a berry farm. While many folks would love to have a new house in a new neighborhood and would think that my Dad was a pretty nice guy for providing us with such, the new lot and the new neighborhood were basically treeless. And there-in lay the problem.
Knowing my Dad, he was probably thinking, “If I can get grass to grow in this heavy clay backfill, this yard is going to be a CINCH to mow!”
Mom, on the other hand, was a bit on overload with a newborn and a 12-year-old – moving, settling in to a new house, a different town & a different school district. She was yearning for her beloved bungalow and its shady corner lot, surrounded by street after street after street of attractive homes within established lawns and gardens, populated with big beautiful trees.
As luck would have it, that summer was an unusually hot one. The builder of the new house had not installed central air conditioning, which was actually a common practice at the time. To make matters worse, with stationary picture windows and small awning style windows set up high on the walls, there was very little air circulation. And, the old stand-by, the box fan, could not be accommodated by those awning windows in that modern ranch style house.
No doubt as an act of self-preservation, Dad paid a visit to a local tree nursery shortly after the move. As the story goes, he asked the proprietress what he could get that would grow fast and cost little. (He did, after all, have plans to build a man-cave/bar/ping pong & dart room in the basement. Pennies would need to be pinched!) Out of the ensuing conversation grew the trees of my childhood. White pine, weeping willow, tulip trees, and silver maple.
I spent many a summer lounging in a hammock under the arching branches of that weeping willow, breezing through my summer reading program books. Many a crisp autumn afternoon was spent raking leaves. Many a supper was consumed while listening to Mom complain about the mess those tulip trees made and the drainage issues the tangles of willow and silver maple roots were famous for. Dad’s mowing scheme did not pan out the way he intended either.
But, ya know, those trees did grow fast. Their roots helped to break up that heavy clay. The grass grew green and healthy. The lawn, shrubs, flowers, and trees helped to make that house a home. Under and around those trees we played on the swing set, practiced archery, trained the family poodle, had badminton matches, visited with family, friends, and neighbors.
I think we all came to love those trees. They grew up and grew older with us – their progress visible in the family photographs that were snapped through the years. As they matured, no matter which window we looked out of, branches and leaves were part of the view.
As we lost them, one by one, over the years, it was sad – like saying goodbye to an old friend with whom many happy memories had been shared. The pine trees succumbed to power company butchering, and, broken hearted, Mom had them removed a couple of years later, replaced by lower growing shrubs. The willow tree had to come down after the Roto Rooter men said its roots were breaking apart the terracotta drain tiles running along the basement footings. One of the massive tulip trees was struck by lightning and exploded in the front yard. The silver maples lost limbs in ice storms and by venturing too far over the neighbor’s property line.
Mom and Dad are both gone now, as are most of those trees of my childhood. My sister and I have both migrated south to warmer winters. A new owner now resides in my childhood home – reportedly drawn to it, in part, because of the mid-century man cave/bar/rec room my Dad built in the basement, and the established lawn, landscaping, and trees. Both of which would have made Mom and Dad happy to know. And, for my sister and me, the new owner’s appreciation for things that had been important to Mom and Dad helped us to feel better about transitioning our parent’s home.
The one remaining massive tulip tree and the one remaining silver maple stand tall, still nourishing the soil and shading that little brick mid-century ranch house, holding memories of the other trees of my childhood and the happy family that dwelt among them.
And so, the stage was set, and it was inevitable, I reckon, that all throughout my 30+ years of inhabiting other abodes, the #1 criteria on my “must have” list has always been TREES.
As I walk from room to room, window to window, in the little brick ranch style house I now call home – guess what?! It’s mid-summer, and I see boughs heavy laden with beautiful green leaves in every view! These trees are well-loved too!