Tracing Roots

Years passed and life went on. I was now on a steady career path, and my sisters were married–balancing kids, mates and careers of their own. I, too, was married and building a family when a sudden storm took the buckeye tree in the middle of the yard. The largest branch had barely missed the house, but took down several power lines. The significance of the buckeye tree coming down was not lost on any of us for we had lost our dad to a sudden heart attack a few years before, and he had been a steadfast, strong presence in our lives. No one else in Berea had a tree like that one, let alone one so productive. Hundreds of buckeyes rained down every year, and Dad often complained when gathering the fall leaves that included loads of heavy buckeyes. Yet that “Ohio State” tree was dear to him and to all of us. Many a school project had buckeyes glued to construction paper, and many a snowman in the yard had buckeyes for eyes, a mouth and buttons. An old-fashioned, two-seat glider swing parked permanently beneath it had also fallen victim in the crash. Many decisions had been made on that swing in the shade of the buckeye. More photos than I can count show my sisters and me on that old swing–before prom, before boarding for a family vacation, before my sister’s wedding–more fabric of the blanket of memories a family sews. I recall that we as children even fed buckeyes to squirrels by hand. We weren’t as smart (boring) as we are today about having a wild animal approach us and trust it to take something from our hands, but experiencing that was cool. The tree’s absence left the yard barren on one side, much like my father’s absence affected our hearts–we, too, seemed empty on one side.

My dad passed in 1995, and my mother has stayed in the house alone for almost 15 years. It was the house she chose 48 years ago, the one that came with all those trees. I go over as often as I can to do extra jobs–pruning, painting, stocking logs, spot repairs–but I have my own home and yard to maintain, and she understands that. The old family yard and its significance in our youth have faded over the years; it’s even been seen as a burden, with so many leaves, sticks and branches, such a mess. But the story goes on.

Hail To The Maple

The late-June storms of this past summer delivered a wicked wind that swept into the enormous maple tree in the front yard, sending towering maple “pillars” crashing across the yard and into the street. I was reading the paper at my house when the phone rang. Mom’s voice was a bit shaky. She said the maple had come down. “You know–the one in the background of all the Halloween pictures of you and your sisters. The last big one,” she added. I said I’d be right over. She objected, but I insisted and headed out the door. “What’s wrong?” asked my 13-year-old son. “It’s just a tree.” I wheeled on him with tight lips, and he shrugged and said no more. He and Cindy and I hustled out to Berea.

This wasn’t about the tree. It was about being 75 years old. It was about being alone in that big house for the last 15 years. It was about children who have lives of their own and grandchildren who visit for a while but always have somewhere else they need to be. It was about the many friends who have passed on and the parents she hasn’t seen in more than 20 years. It was about peanut butter and jelly, potato chips and baloney sandwich lunches, collecting fall leaves, and sending kids off to elementary school, junior high, high school and then college. It was about Scruffy the family dog, lying contentedly in that backyard and gnawing on a giant stick. It was about the ancient, homemade picnic table and grilled burgers and steaks that tasted like charcoal. It was about another living thing passing on and leaving her behind. It is about knowing the days ahead are nowhere near as plentiful as the days behind. And more than anything, it is the lament of those of us who appreciated the life we experienced and don’t want to let go. It’s a voice that cries out, “Enough change! Can’t some things just stay the same?”

As we drove, I reminded my wife after her father had retired as a carpenter that he did not take the tools out of his trade van for two years. It was too permanent to inventory the elements of his life and sell the truck that had no further use. By the time he willingly let go, the truck had to be towed away. He still says to this day he “should have kept the van.” He’s 80. And my wife mentioned the threadbare dishcloths in our drawers at home that she has kept because they had come over on the boat from Italy with Grandma. “I’ll never get rid of those,” she whispered.

Falling Victim

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