Childhood Trees


One of the trees I visit in the woods

I sat in the chair waiting for Amy.  The doctor’s office had one window, a Venetian blind covered it, the slats open enough to let light in. I could see a tree trunk, its bark familiar, between the slats.

As I searched my memory for where I had seen it before, I landed on the sidewalk in front of the house I grew up in. In the backyard were two giant Oak Trees.  One had the date 1888 carved into it.  They were the oldest, the rest of the trees were planted when my grandparents and father built the house.

Next to the oaks was a mulberry tree with white, berries.  Small unruly evergreens lined one fence.  And in front of the house,  was a maple, a catalpa, and a Rose of Sharon.  A wisteria vine grew on the roof and two sides of a covered patio.  And a Rodadendron reached out from under its shade.  A  fig tree, which was wrapped in burlap every winter to keep it from freezing,  taught me to love fresh figs.

I haven’t thought of all those childhood trees in years.  Most of the houses in the post-WWII suburban neighborhood had a maple tree or two on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street.  But now that I think about it, our yard was like a little arboretum in comparison.

And even though no one ever talked about it, I’d guess it was my grandmother who planted them. Mostly because in my lifetime knowing her, she seemed to have the first and final say about most things.

Although my grandmother lived upstairs in our two-family house, I was not close to her. She had a hard life and was a difficult person, not the kindly grandmother of so many stories.

But, I realized today as I waited for my doctor, she must have loved trees.

So I wonder, is this where I got my love of trees from?  From this woman who I saw every day but never talked to.

What would have happened if we did talk about the trees? Would she have told me stories, in broken English of how they reminded her of her home in Italy?  How did this woman who sewed in a factory in NYC for most of her life, come to plant all these different kinds of trees?

There is no one to ask these questions anymore.  But I do like the idea of having something in common with this person who I never loved or even liked.

It feels hopeful. Like maybe there was something we shared.  It feels like a gift.  The best one my grandmother could possibly give me.

6 thoughts on “Childhood Trees

  1. It’s strange how many of us realise, only too late, that there were so many questions we should have asked!
    When I came to America in 1964 (Syosset) my Uncle’s mother was sharing the house. She also lived upstairs. She was Irish so there were no language issues, but there were plenty of every other kind. I am pretty good at making excuses for people, but I never could quite think of one in her case. Even though I never heard her side of the story.
    I assume your grandmother came over from Italy as a young woman? It must have been traumatic. Just the journey alone and not being able to communicate. A friend of mine on LI is first generation Italian/American. Her mother never learned to speak English. In a way I imagine it would be surrendering the last vestige of your youth, of your homeland. I often regret having been separated from mine even though I have no language problems (well, almost none!) and it’s just hours by air….but it is far more complicated of course. Isn’t everything?

    1. You came to Long Island the year I was born there Carolyn. I know my grandmothers life was difficult. She already had a baby in Italy and was waiting for my grandfather (who was already in America) to send her money so she could come too. The story goes he needed some prodding from his brother to send the money. And then there was living through the depression in the tenements of Brooklyn. My Grandfather was a brick layer and the house they eventually built after the war, that I grew up in, was like an Italian Villa. Your Uncle’s mother sounds like she may have been a lot like my grandmother. 🙂

  2. I remember the trees lining the sidewalks where I grew up on Long Island. But it was the trees in backyards I spent my time climbing and hiding in. They were my friends and I climbed them like a monkey.
    Those are good memories of a place of quiet and calmness among the leaves.
    I like the perspective of the photo you took. Keep looking up!

  3. I remember a neighborhood catalpa that we called an Italian bean tree because of the long pods and the nationality of the homeowners. I still fondly mentally call them them that, there are several closeby.

    1. Well that’s a clue to why my grandmother planted one Sharon. When I was a kid I loved those beans, used to break them open and pretend cooking them.

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