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.