The Tree That Fought Back

I take after my dad in a lot of ways.

I have his long limbs, his chin, and his impulsive, daredevil streak. 

Combining the colt-length arms and legs with shared underdeveloped coordination means we frequently require first aid.

When I was four, we lived in Mobile Dad was sent to Connecticut for some type of Coast Guard continuing education school.  The rest of us stayed in Alabama.

Mrs. Cotter was a widow in Connecticut who rented rooms in her home for Coast Guardsmen who came from away to attend the school.  That’s where Dad stayed.

One afternoon, Mrs. Cotter mentioned a tree that needed to come down.  My dad volunteered to chop it down with an ax.

He made pretty good progress until he missed.

As the tibia and fibula are much more fragile than a tree, he came darn close to chopping off his leg.  Luckily, he only gave himself a particularly grisly multiple fracture.

After receiving the call, Mom packed all of us kids, luggage, and baby supplies into our very small, very old Opal, and we were on our way to a stately old home in New England—around 1300 miles away.

The house seemed like the largest oldest house I’d ever been in.  There were three floors and an attic that probably served as a model for every creepy attic in every TV show and movie ever made. 

My mom spent her days at the hospital along with Bud, because he was too young to be away from her.  I stayed with Mrs. Cotter and her hired man.

Mrs. Cotter was old.  She was the type of widow for which walks were made.  She may have had kids, but they might have died in the Civil War or gone looking to make their fortunes in the California gold rush.  I don’t think her hired man had ever seen a child.

It was as though a Keds-wearing, fairy tale-loving Martian had been plopped down among them. 

They asked what I’d like for lunch each day. 

I requested peanut butter & jelly, but what I meant was Goober Grape, the concoction with ingredients swirled together in a jar.  But at home, we just called it peanut butter & jelly.  The very first lunch Mrs. Cotter began making my sandwich, and I saw that it came from two different jars, and was spread on separate slices of bread.

“I want it mixed!” It was an objection that was only a little about the lunch.  It was mainly a cry about being little and missing my dad, and scary hospitals, and awful, long car rides, and mom being gone all day, and staying in a strange, boring, old house, with strange old people who didn’t even know anything about kids.

Mrs. Cotter and her hired man had an intense, whispered consultation, and she scraped the bread clean.  A dollop of peanut butter and a spoonful of jelly were feverishly stirred, then the resulting melange was triumphantly transferred back to bread. 

They set the sandwich in front of me and stepped back.

It wasn’t what I wanted.  It wasn’t even close.  I’d lost my appetite.  All I wanted was to curl up in my daddy’s lap and have a good, long cry.

I was poised to run out of the room in dramatic fashion, and give in to my sadness, fatigue, and disappointment, when I looked up into their nervous, smiling, hopeful faces. “How is it?”

For the first time in my short life, I thought before I spoke.  I realized it was tough for them too, and they were trying.

“It’s yummy.  It’s perfect.  Thank you.”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

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