“You want me cut down that old dead tree?” The man asked. He had responded to an ad I placed in the paper, asking for some help in cleaning up around the farm. So far he had cut down and hauled away some useless metal pipe and gathered up a variety of things I had stored in the barn and just wanted to be rid of. Things were looking better and I was in a good mood but suddenly, at the mention of taking my mesquite tree, the sun vanished behind a cloud and a chill wind sprang up from the north.
“Well, I’ll have to think about that,” I told him as I walked toward the house, leaving him to gather up several pieces of sheet iron left over from the old barn roof that blew off last spring. From inside the kitchen, I watched him work but mostly I stared at the bare limbs of the old tree. When Tom and I planned this house and had it built, fifty years ago, that tree was just a little sapling. Tom was going to cut it down, calling it a worthless mesquite, but I asked him to leave it alone. There were lots of live oak and post oak, even a few red oaks around the place but that was the only mesquite and in early spring, its little leaves were a beautiful fresh green and the wind through those leaves made a lonesome sound that I found pleasing. So the little tree stayed.
Workers had left a small pile of pea gravel under the tree, material left over from the house’s cement foundation, and it made a playground for Tommy and Barbara. I could watch them from the kitchen window as they built roads in the gravel for Tommy’s trucks and dug out places for Barbara to put her dolls so they had good seats for the truck races. They spent part of everyday, when the weather was nice, beneath the shade of that little tree and I could almost always find them there.
As the kids grew, so did the tree and soon they were climbing in the lowest branches, carrying barn cats with them to sit in their laps and share a grilled cheese sandwich. Later, friends joined them, climbing among the branches, and helping build a tree house in the tree’s fork one beautiful summer afternoon.
Soon, it seemed, the children were grown and then married with children of their own. Then the grandchildren, as soon as they were big enough, began to scramble up the rough trunk and rest in the tree. Now over 25, the little mesquite had grown into a towering tree with branches as big around as an adult’s body. It was a perfect place for the barn cats to teach their kittens how to climb and our guineas flew into its branches at night to sleep. It shaded the houses and pens we built for our Great Danes, Attila and Delilah and when the puppies came, they rolled and tumbled across the dirt floors of those pens, comfortable in the ample shade from the tree. After the Danes were all gone, Elvis, my pet monkey took up residence in those pens during the spring and summer months when the weather was mild. When he wasn’t in his pen, he was swinging from the top limbs of the tree. A favorite trick was to hang by his tail from one of the smallest, highest branches and jump to the other side of the spreading tree limbs, screaming at me as he sailed through the air. There was no doubt that he loved the tree.
And then one day in mid-summer, I looked out my window and thought the tree didn’t look like it felt so good. The branches drooped a little and the leaves had lost the bright green color I liked so much. I went outside and stood under the tree, staring up at its branches, those were the loving arms that had surrounded our children, provided a playground for our grandchildren, and shaded our pets. This was the tree that was there before we built our house, before we made a home together. It was a part of our lives and I didn’t want to lose that.
I went back inside with a very heavy heart because it was clear that the old tree was dying and with the thought that it was leaving, all the old memories broke over me in a flood. The end came swiftly and by mid-summer, the tree had lost all its leaves. Still, with some hope, I watched for new growth and heard the wild geese call as they flew north in early March, but the tree could no longer give me the sign I always looked for, that winter was over when the first buds appeared on its outstretched branches.
As my helper stopped to straighten his back, I made a tough decision, walked outside and told him to cut down the tree and haul it away. For too long it had stood there, bare limbs reaching toward the sky. It was time for the tree to go and for me to move on. I’ll always be able to look out my kitchen window and in my mind, see my children playing, see whatever I want to see. That’s a gift from God, as was the tree, and those memories will live forever.