Beloved Branches

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pear tree

In our childhood, objects that were a common everyday event may have taken little notice. As we grow older, memories come flooding back when we least expected them to surface. Perhaps it’s the smell of a familiar fragrance, watching a trail of ants working together to carry a larger insect back to their nest, or the erosion of a ditch bank that reveals hidden treasures. For me, it was picking up a ripe pear in a West Tennessee Farmers’ Market. This simple act reminded me of the pear tree from my childhood, whose branches and shade allowed me to visit a pretend land of make-believe.

A few feet from the back porch of my childhood home stood a huge pear tree. I recall stories of this being the only sweet summer pear tree anywhere around our community. Who planted this tree? Where did the seed come from? Could an early pioneer have dropped a pear while traveling this land, moving westward after crossing the Appalachian Mountains? Even without these answers, I knew the tree produced an abundance of fruit as generations of family and neighbors walked by, filling burlap bags with the juicy, sweet treats.

When you’re a child, objects appear much larger than they are in reality. As adults, we’re surprised by the actual size. But this tree was huge by any standard. Branches covered a span of 25 to 30 feet, at least. Each spring, robins scouted out the tree to find the best branches to build their nests.

A couple of months later, the prolific tree would produce gallons of fruit. Too soft for canning, the fruit was best eaten fresh. It was my job to pick up the fallen pears each morning. I soon discovered that honeybees and open-toed sandals didn’t mix after an angry insect became entangled under my toe. My father understood – he annually threatened to chop down the tree when he had to mow under the low-handing branches and fight off the swarming bees. Fortunately, it was an idle threat because he enjoyed the treats as much as anyone.

As soon as the weather was warm enough, I set up a playhouse under its branches, protected from the sun. Here, I was in control of “the home” and made all the decisions. I developed carpentry skills and design techniques by using blocks of wood from the lumber pile and nailing pieces together to make doll furniture. I created a cooking apparatus from two bricks and a metal paint can lid. Underneath, I built a small fire. Using tin cans as pots and pans, I cooked squash and peas from the garden.

Balancing on a low-hanging limb, I climbed to a sturdy niche and read poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. “How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue?” was a favorite. I could imagine swinging higher and higher until I could almost touch the clouds.

There is a time and place for everything – even a beloved tree. One night, a fierce lightning storm struck the well-known landmark. Taking only part of the trunk, the tree struggled to produce for a few more years. Several years later, another windstorm was its demise. By that time, the beloved tree, my childhood friend, had helped raise me. I was a young married woman with a child of my own. Returning to the home place, I eagerly wanted to introduce my own daughter to “the tree” that had sheltered me during my youth. Opening the back door to my parent’s home, there was a blank space where the icon had stood for well over a century, maybe longer. Healthy green grass now covered the spot. No honeybees swarmed. No birds chose its branches for their brood. The tree was gone. It was like a curtain had closed and all that was left was memories. Today, I often reflect on the sweet pear tree and recall hours of pleasure. Pleasures of a simple childhood that could only be found in a loving, secure setting in which I was privileged to grow up.

Thinking back to my childhood in a small West Tennessee community, I realized family responsibility, nurturing creativity in small things, and the value of lessons taught from nature – even an old pear tree!

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