The Summer the Cherry Tree Came Down

Columns / Aug. 24, 2006 12:00am EDT

The Summer the Cherry Tree Came Down

Maybe I will just remember this summer as the one when the cherry tree came down.

She was a hundred if she was a day, this old lady of a tree, stooped and arthritic-looking even in the late ‘70s when we came to own her.

"I argued for hospice," I overheard my husband telling someone, "but my wife was immoveable." And I guess I was, because for all his tenderly administered prunings she had never recovered from these last hard winters. She had stumps now instead of branches and had become an eyesore in the minds of our neighbors, I feared, sitting as she did on the outer rim of our corner lot.

She was no eyesore when we met her as a young couple just starting out. She was to us a gracious presence, with cherries so sweet the birds carried them off before we could harvest so much as an apronful.

Green as we were then, we took her for granted then, the way the young take for granted all of their endowments, their glowing good health, their great and shining beauty.

I’m not sure we really even saw her—until the wise older lady next door crossed the lawn and spoke a simple sentence:

"I watch your children having their tea parties under the cherry, and your little cat in attendance, sitting up so prim and straight like an invited guest," she said smilingly.

And suddenly I saw us for the first time: a young family in a slice of time too soon gone.

And now, in this summer of the tree’s removal, so much has befallen us:

First our "baby" graduated from college and his uncle from Arizona came to see him do it. A few days after commencement the car he rode in was struck head-on by a truckful of joyriding teens, leaving him with a concussion, a brain-bleed and a nose laid open in three sections like the petals of a flower. Reconstructive surgeons assembled to rebuild his face and unable to climb stairs, he recovered for a week afterward in our living room.

Then our oldest girl and the boss of those early tea parties was found to have Lyme disease with all its attendant pain and debility.

And finally serious illness in our dear final elder yanked me in particular clear out of my orbit and has me still visiting his place three and four and five times a week, to bring him to his doctors’ appointments, and cook his meals, and sit with him and listen as he looks back over his life. He is doing something very powerful now: To bring healing to his spirit if not his body, he is gathering a harvest of remembrance and I am the one lucky enough to watch him do it.

Thanks to exercise and right eating, our brother has found complete healing in his body.

Our daughter is still waiting for her healing to commence, but she inspires me with her spirit.

Her hands and feet hurt all the time but she was here early on the day the old tree went: to watch her go, she said, and to ask the men who took her down if she might have a cross-section of the old wood to make a lovely bowl of.

I have a mental picture of her from that morning which I treasure for the lesson that it gives me. In it she is sick, yes, but she is smiling too; and behind her is an altered horizon, a patch of sky now empty that once was full in our sight.

Write to Terry at tmarotta@comcast.net or PO Box 270, Winchester, Mass., 01890.

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