June 30, 2010 limb
“That is one strange looking tree.”
Dave paused as we climbed the small hill. My fingers, interlaced with his, felt him stop, so (though I had been watching my feet and not the scenery) I paused too.
“Sure is.” I said, cocking my head to the right side.
“I wonder how it grew that way?” He pondered underneath his pursed eyebrows.
“I think that’s not the trunk that goes all the way up.” I said. “I think somehow the trunk got diseased or broken and the limb became the trunk.”
We both stared for a minute, wondering what may have happened, and when it may have happened. The Quakie was bent like the arm of an Egyptian dancer; like the letter Z on an ancient torture chamber stretcher; her silvery bark reflecting the setting sun over Farmington Pond like Zorro had sliced the sky.
When trunks struggle a good strong limb will take over and keep the flow going. Pretty soon it’s hard to tell the difference unless you pause. And you look up.
Trunks break all the time. I wonder if trees grieve the loss?
My mother’s family tree suffered a broken trunk somewhere during the Great Depression. Mid 1930’s. That’s the year her mother, Lizzie Parrish, left the ranch in Blackfoot with a belly ache. Headed to Salt Lake City to visit a doctor. On the way they stopped in Soda Springs to visit her brother Joe. They never made it to the city near the Great Salt Lake.
Mom was in seventh or eighth grade. Her sister Becky was nine years old. Mae was in High School. Mae remembers being called out of class. Someone, unremembered now, followed the path of the three schools like a dot to dot, hastily gathering daughters into an old black automobile. Silently they bumped over the rough roads to Soda Springs in time to say goodbye to their mom.
The trunk broke.
George Parrish grieved the loss of Lizzie until he couldn’t stand it any longer. One year after Lizzie died he married again. Alice. A young thing, rough around the edges, with not much to offer a grieving family. She was younger than some of George’s children, and she didn’t care to raise the younger ones.
So the limbs took over.
Nine good limbs remained on George and Lizzie’s tree: Fred, Parks, Ruth, Ruby, Edna, Mary, Mae, Afton and Becky. Mae, Becky and Afton were pretty green and tender. The big branches stretched up toward the heavens and let the life flow despite their sorrow and discomfort. Not only had they lost their mother, they had in many ways lost their father as well.
My mother, like the two sisters who straddled her in age, lived her remaining teenage years in the limbs of her older brothers and sisters: hung there in a small space while they raised their kids around her. They were good to her, and gave her safety in her solitude. She learned to fend for herself early on. Sewed her own clothes, worked jobs and lived her own stubborn life until she was seventeen and old enough to marry Cy Davis and move, finally, to a home of her own. In their own individual ways my uncles and aunts nurtured my mother into the woman from whom seven more branches sprung. I bend my little green twig of self down toward them here in our family tree, wanting to connect, wanting to thank them for not letting go; for not giving up and letting the whole thing die. When I came along, the trunk had grown over where the break occurred, and not knowing anything different I thought our tree was just a normal one like all the others on the hill.
That’s before I learned to pause.
My own funny little branch sprang from the large sturdy one that came from the crooked trunk of my mother’s family tree. We are zigzagged and odd, but strangely interesting nonetheless. And with every turn of the seasons, like every other tree in the forest, we burst with new life, proving to ourselves that, despite our awkward appearance, we are survivors.