Of trees and houses, and houses in trees


In a window of time spanning many decades, that may or may not now be closed, there was a tree, in what was my backyard, in what was my childhood. The backyard is no longer mine, and the childhood, while still mine, no longer is. The tree may or may not exist. It is, or was, a fruitless mulberry. At least two of us humans loved it. We were childish in our love for it, which in one sense means that I didn’t consider it an emergency when the roots grew deep and may have, may have, eventually one day threatened the foundation of the house. I suppose I would have mustered more urgency if this actually had been happening, but I was not in fact ready to murder the tree for something it might or might not do in the future. I made myself the appointed public defender for the tree. As a side note, I now remember this was the second time I had taken this role. The first time is another story that has to do with the front yard and an ornamental peach tree, while we are currently focused on the mulberry tree in the backyard. Focus, such as it is.

In another sense, my love for this tree was childish because that was where we played. That was where we were children. Perhaps the tree, to my mind, provided more shelter than the house, so let the roots tear up the foundation. Let them turn the soil like plowed earth, and let wild flowers and weeds come up from the decomposition of the rotted things. Let the tree be. The tree has done nothing but good.

My father kept stacks of wood, planks, two by fours, and various parts and remnants of projects on the side of the house. These were ours to use to transform the tree into other things. To build a treehouse. Most often, the tree was a boat. My branch was always my branch, with planks arranged in forks in other branches to create perches, high and low. My branch was my own cabin in our own boat, with all the accoutrements a child’s imagination could conjure. My sister’s branch, was always her branch, outfitted similarly according to her imagination. The neighbors and visiting friends were very welcome to find their quarters in steerage.

These children we were have grown into fathers and mothers, some of us. Somewhere, we are still those children. Laughing, silly, frightened, imagining. Playing out the squabbles with siblings and parents that started over a rope ladder in a tree when tin cans were made of tin and you could slit your finger on a pull tab.

I called my father on Father’s Day to tell him I love him, and I’m thinking of him. We talked about boats, and back stays, and trim tabs, and aeronautics. He told me the joke about why the boom is called a boom (“Because that’s the sound it makes when it hits you in the head.”) Dad. I smiled on my end of the phone and didn’t need to tell him I know how to duck.

I called one of my dearest friends, and somehow knew before I heard her voice that things were not right. Her father died today, of a sudden heart attack.

I called my ex-husband to wish him a Happy Father’s Day and thank him for the children. For all the things they are, and we are.

We are hooligans hanging from trees, all of us. Hanging on. Hanging on.

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