Look, Grandpa! The tree’s broken!
The sweet seven-year-old, disheveled blonde hair flying into her eyes, spoke the momentous words without any idea of the turmoil they would bring. Within seconds, she was standing on a stepladder pulling little green fruit from the branches she could reach. I almost didn’t remember to warn her of the impending stomachache. Almost.
I was the one who felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.
The tree will die. It is inevitable.
I am sad.
It’s really not my tree. It doesn’t change how I feel about it.
The Lovely Lady and I are returning to her roots. For nearly seventy years, the old house and surrounding property have been part of her family, her parents having moved in the house within a few years of being married.
We’ve spent several months breathing new life into the house, with the property needing as much resuscitation as the building. Days, we’ve spent clearing overgrowth and dead limbs, along with more than a few saplings which had poked their branches up where they weren’t wanted.
But the old apple tree, with its gnarled limbs and bowed trunk—looking for all the world like an ancient fellow bent by years of backbreaking work—the old apple tree was meant to stay forever.
Forty years ago, it was. Four decades back, this summer, I first tasted the fruit from that tree. Sitting at the table, long hair to my shoulders and skinny as one of the branches of the tree, I ate—gobbled down, really—the serving of apple crisp set before me by the Lovely Young Lady’s mother.
Before the meal was done, I asked for another serving, and then another. Slightly tart, yet pleasingly sweet, the crunch of the crumbly crust almost a surprise as one chewed, it was a treat to be savored and assigned to the memory banks for a lifetime.
I expected a repeat performance later this summer when the little green apples—the ones the neighborhood deer herd can’t reach from their hind legs—have turned to shades of yellows and reds.
My granddaughter is right. The tree is broken. An errant wind, whipped up in a rainstorm a week or so ago, has twisted the gnarled, bowed trunk and opened a crack that, as an old friend used to say, you could sling a cat through.
I feel as if an old friend has been told he has mere weeks to live. The thought of losing this old companion is more than I want to contemplate, but still, my mind mulls over the future.
That night, my daughter assures me, the children went to bed with nary a sign of a bellyache. I’m the one who is sick to his stomach.
I suppose it’s laughable. I could understand an uninvolved individual chortling at the idea.
It’s a ratty old tree! Who cares if it dies? Plant another one there. Or—better yet—build a fire circle with a pit. Parties are better than apple crisp any day!
It’s not even my tree.
Well, in a way, I suppose it is. You might call it the family tree.
I know. Puns aren’t universally loved. I love them, though.
You see, the Lovely Lady can’t remember a day when that apple tree wasn’t there. I don’t know if her dad planted it or not, but he certainly tended it for decades, ensuring it would bear fruit and be there for the foreseeable future. In a way, you might say, it was his legacy.
Better than money or belongings, this thing left behind, this family tree, carries with it special powers. I look at it and am carried back forty years to apple crisp and fresh applesauce, straight from the Foley Food Mill. The Lovely Lady goes back another decade and remembers climbing the old tree with her siblings, each in their own quadrant, to pick and eat the not-so-sweet fruit to their heart’s content.
Years of family history have gone by, and the tree that is not mine has seen every minute of those years.
But, this I remember and take heart: The legacy will not die with the old tree.
Memories live in our hearts. Long after that old tree is gone, I will, in my mind, taste the delicious desserts made from its fruit.
The legacy left behind is so much more important than trees that perish in the storm or money that is soon exhausted in the marketplace.
I was grafted into her family tree decades ago; although once a stranger, I was never treated as anything but a son and brother. Her legacy is mine, and vice versa.
Funny. Suddenly, I’m thinking of that other family tree I’ve been grafted into.
You know the one I mean.
We’ve been grafted into God’s tree, to be a part of His family forever. (Romans 11:17)
Wild, unproductive branches, we.
Once, we were.
No longer. With roots that go deep, this tree’s legacy is ours forever.
Even though it was never our tree, to begin with.
What a gift!
How would we not carry on the legacy and share it freely?
I’m still sad about the apple tree. Perhaps, I’ll plant another one.
Future generations may need to taste that apple crisp again.
I know I can still taste it.
And, it’s still good.
The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
(William James ~ American philosopher ~ 1842-1910)
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:3 ~ KJV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.