The Tree of Ages

A short story of life, love, and moving on

She leans back against its trunk. The rough feel of tree bark pushes into her spine and skin. Closing her eyes she lets the warm summer breeze blow across her face, slightly rumpling her hair. Wispy strands of her mousy brown curls fall across her lips, sticking momentarily to the gloss she applied there only a few moments ago.

Tilting her head up, she opens her eyes to gaze up through the branches and leaves of this old pear tree. Her favorite tree in the whole-wide-world. “Well, shucks,” she thinks, “truth be told, this spot, sitting here beneath the swaying branches as they waft their sweet, fruity scent into the air, is my favorite spot in the whole-wide-world.” She came here a lot as a young girl. Just to think.

Her parents planted this tree as a sapling when she was born. “So yes, it is literally my tree,” she muses as her fingers reach out and graze its trunk, feeling the roughness of the bark.

Still looking skyward she tells the tree, “Mom always told me she planted you to bring me good luck, abundance, and a good life. She fondly referred to you as ‘The Tree of Life.’” Pausing a moment she remembers her mother peeling and slicing the fruit from this tree to make a pie or occasionally a crumbly cobbler. Her mother’s famous homemade pear pie. It won several times at the county fair.

Those were good times. The long afternoons spent in the kitchen with her mother, baking and canning. This time of year, as summer fades into fall, they would work until the sun formed long shadows like gray silhouettes across the tiled kitchen floor.

She remembers kneading the pie dough with her mother. Her small, supple hands encased by the gnarled, rough farm hands of her elder. “Would my hands look like that someday?” she thought then. Snapping back from the memory she looks down at her hands. Bigger, older, not yet gnarled with arthritis but slipping into the duties once performed by her mom.

“Life is moving forward,” she tells the tree. “And you are the tree of my life.”

This very tree has been privy to so many of her secrets. She came to this arbor to cry like a baby when her dad died. Screaming and shouting at the unfairness of it all, she pounded her fists against this very trunk until all her emotions were spent, and her hands a little scraped. How could she see him at breakfast and by that afternoon he would be dead of a heart attack? Touching her forehead, she still felt his brief kiss on her skin as he said goodbye.

The tree, her pear tree, stood sentinel through all of her wailings and lashings, hearing it all, hearing her heartbreak.

It witnessed happy moments too, like her first kiss. What a glorious moment that was!

Lying on her belly under the tree’s canopy one afternoon, she saw two black work boots appear before her. They were worn a bit around the toes and laces with a brown leaf sticking to the heel of the left boot. She knew those boots! They belonged to the feet of only the cutest boy in her school. They belonged to none other than Jack!

Her eyes followed the boots up to see legs, then hips, a torso, and finally a smiling face. Yes! It was Jack’s face or maybe she was dreaming. She momentarily pinched herself just to check. Nope, not dreaming. The pinch hurt, leaving a slight sting where her fingers had grasped.

The kiss came a while later. Jack had come to ask her to the barn dance taking place the following weekend. Of course, she agreed! With that awkwardness out of the way, Jack relaxed a little. Sitting down beside her he leaned himself against the pear tree and they began to just talk. About nothing really, and everything. They talked about school, subjects and teachers they liked or disliked, about cloud shapes floating in the sky and life in general until eventually, they fell silent.

In this silence, it happened. Jack inched closer to her and leaning in her direction so all she could see was his profile, he kissed her. Very lightly and faintly his lips met hers, pressing together as if they were praying. She felt the warmth of his breath but she also felt herself reciprocating by pressing her own mouth a little firmer into his.

And the pear tree was there, witnessing it all. Sad moments, happy moments, heart-breaking to true love moments, it stood with her, grounding her.

“The word for today,” she tells the tree, “is melancholy.” She does not tell the tree aloud that this is moving day for her mother. Or that there will be no pear pies cooling on the kitchen counter later this fall.

Over the last month, they’d packed up the house, deciding which bits of her mom’s life stayed and which bits didn’t. The discarded bits could be donated or sold eventually.

Her mother could no longer live alone. Arthritis crippled her hands so badly that she could not grasp her coffee cup without fear of dropping it. But that is not all. Her mother’s memory waned in and out, causing her to forget about simple tasks like turning the stove burner off. The final straw came when her mother left to do the weekly grocery shopping but could not remember the route back home.

“The streets all looked different,” her mother kept saying. “It must be those high-rises they built in town. I just got turned around.”

Turned around? Yes, she became so turned around she ended up driving into the next county! Only because a police officer stopped her car due to her confusion on the road did she receive any help in returning home.

“As of tomorrow, this will no longer be my mother’s home,” she thinks. “Nor will you be our pear tree.” She has been glancing down, kicking dirt around with the toe of her shoe. It is then she sees another pair of black boots come walking around the tree. Only this time, it is not Jack and she is not a young girl any longer.

The boots belong to her husband. He stops walking and stands waiting for her. “Your mom is in the car,” he tells her. “You coming?”

She nods, not really looking at him but up at the tree. There are a few pears forming. It is still early as they are not quite ripe, yet, she reaches up and picks one anyway. For old times’ sake.

Turning the smooth-skinned fruit over in her palms, she thinks, “ My hands look rough. They are the hands of my mother”.

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