Tracing Roots

My mom chose a house in Berea, Ohio, to raise her family. She had had her eye on it since she was a little girl. It was on Fair Street because a long time ago that’s where the county fair was held. It intersected Race Street because that’s where the horse races were held at the fair. My dad remembered signing the mortgage papers on the hood of the realtor’s car. “Two pages stapled together,” he recalled as he sat with me when I bought my first home, and watched me sign at least 50 papers. Their lot was one full acre loaded with trees for a big family to enjoy.

Three trees stood out: a cherry in the back, a buckeye in the middle of the yard and a towering maple in the front. The previous owner was a farmer who had owned the land covering the entire block. He sectioned it off and sold it in lots. If you stand in the backyard and look across into the neighbors’ yards, you can see the remnants of the former orchard, where lines of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees still remain. Central to the back yard, the cherry tree was probably 6 feet in diameter. It was cleverly named “the big, fat cherry tree.” It was first base when we played kickball. By keeping one hand on it, you could get a big jump on the pitcher to steal second. Its boughs hung low enough that even my older sister could climb the tree (and she couldn’t climb anything). Its cherries were the deepest maroon and the sweetest of all. That tree made the backyard. In the summer it provided awesome shade; in the winter, its mighty branches held tons of snow. And in the fall, its colors were magnificent.

Late one summer evening in the 1970s while I was away at college, my mom called me. “Lightning split the big, fat cherry tree in half. We’ll need to have it removed. I thought you should know.” Hanging up, I thought about the fall colors on that tree, its generous shade as I munched a peanut-butter sandwich, and how I climbed it higher and higher with neighborhood friends to pick the hardest-to-find cherries. I swallowed the lump in my throat and returned to my studies. After all, it was just a tree. But I recall feeling an enormous void when I returned home for Christmas that year as I gazed into the sparse backyard. A piece of family lore was but a memory, a big, fat memory.

Raining Buckeyes

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