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The Cherry Tree
One of the first things that caught my eye when I began to walk was the delicious looking red things hanging from a tree in our backyard. They were not in my reach, and small gate around the yard separated me from getting any closer. As far as I knew then, they were only to look, but not touch.
As I turned twelve and my little sister Giavanna was turned six years old, I grew more curious about those ruby red things. The height of the tree holding them grew twice as tall as I did. Every summer, the redness would be at his finest, and the cherries looked so plump. At the end of the summer, they’d start to disappear and we would have to wait a year for them to grow again.
One day, as my sister and I were sitting and marveling over the tree, the leaves started to shake. A couple cherries fell to the floor and Giavanna ran to pick them up. She ran back to me excitedly with her big brown puppy eyes and said, “They’re beautiful!” I took one of the cherries, and popped it in my mouth carefully removing the seed from the middle. The juice flowed from the center and my taste buds tingled. Giavanna had cherry juice oozing from her lips and she smiled.
After finishing two cherries each, we searched for more on the floor, but there were none. Craving the juicy fruit, we ran to the front gate and peeked around to see an old man with a basket full of red cherries. Giavanna ran towards the basket as he laid it down on his front steps. “No!” I said.
“Hey you two leave my stuff alone,” the old man shouted “Don’t touch my wife’s cherries! Go on, get out of here!”
Giavanna ran back to me with tears in her eyes. As I hugged her and rubbed her tears away, I apologized to the old man and started to walk away. When we walked inside the house, I tried to console Giavanna by telling her that maybe some more cherries will fall from the tree if we wait. After I washed the tear streaks from her face, we ran outside to the back and ran straight to our spot where we watched the tree. Surprised, we found a tiny basket with about ten cherries in it, and a note: “Here –signed Mr. Jeffrey”. My little sister smiled and started to pick at the basket. I turned and looked at our neighbor’s house. The curtains from the window looking out to our backyard immediately shut and I smiled.
Every summer from that day we would go to Mr. Jeffrey’s house and ask for cherries. He would sometimes be mean and shut the door on us, or he’d tell us to take our tiny basket and fill it up. My mother said we were being rude by only talking to him if he gave us cherries. We knew she was probably right, but decided not to do anything about it.
During winter break, an ambulance stopped right in front of our house and ran with a stretcher to Mr. Jeffrey’s house. My parents, sister, and I ran outside to go check on what was happening. Mr. Jeffrey was strapped onto the stretcher and being hauled into the ambulance. He had the saddest look on his face and for once, you could not see him as the bitter old man that he was.
Mr. Jeffrey stayed in the hospital for a couple days and news got around that he had gotten a heart attack. The neighbors around us began to gossip, saying that his wife had died of the same fate many years ago and soon enough we would be rid of this bitter old man. My parents, apart from everyone else, were worried. They said it was probably up to them to make sure when he returned, he was not so alone all the time. Apparently my parents thought it was my responsibility to do so.
Even though I whined for hours, when Mr. Jeffrey finally came back home, I would walk over to his house to sit with him in his living room and keep him company. He had a nurse come in on some days but most of the time we would just sit there without talking at all. I did not want the situation to be awkward but we had only ever talked about getting cherries from his tree. If I tried to make a little peep he would shush me. I hated going to his house. One day during another session of sitting there in silence I exclaimed, “I don’t know why you need me in the house with you! You have a nurse who checks on you and all you do is sit here and stare into space. I’m done coming back to this old house!”
When I got home, my mother told me that I acted very rude and that I should go and apologize. I did not feel that I had too. He was the bitter one, not me. Days went by that I didn’t go back to that house. Since I didn’t have friends to spend time with, I stayed cooped up in my room just lying in bed staring at the ceiling. Giavanna would try to come lay with me sometimes, figuring I wanted some company but she must have gotten annoyed by the silence because she stopped trying. Even after school was already weeks in progress, I still spent my days in my room, not talking to anybody unless I needed to. I just did not understand it. Why did that old man have to be so mean? Were all old people supposed to be like that? Am I going to be like that?
Come first day of summer, I walked up to Mr. Jeffrey’s house and knocked on the door. The nurse let me in and I searched the living room for Mr. Jeffrey where he usually sat. He was not there. I asked the nurse why he was not sitting down in his usual spot and she told me he was put on bed rest. I walked to the back of his house and found him sitting up in bed. I sat in the chair by the bedside table and took one long look at him. He looked so fragile and old. His face almost resembled the one he had on as he was being carried away on the stretcher.
I begin to apologize. I explained how curious I was about his bitterness and expressed my fear of being like him when I was older. He stopped me, and began to reach for something on his bedside table. Until then, I never noticed her picture. In the picture, there was a beautiful old lady. She had wrinkles from smiling and laughing. She had snow white curls on her head and dimples on her rosy cheeks.
“The cherry tree is hers. She loved that tree.” Mr. Jeffrey said and I realized that this picture was of his wife. The pieces began to form together in my head. I got a lump in my throat and asked what happened to her. The gossipers were right about her death cause. Mr. Jeffrey however smoothly slipped through that part of the subject and began to talk about her. He explained to me how amazing a cook she use to be. He told me about the way her dimples came out when she was trying to make a serious face. He told me about the way her eyes lit up when they would dance around the living room together. He told me, with tears in his eyes, how she made him the happiest man in the world. I could no longer resist the urge to hug Mr. Jeffrey, and when I did, I was surprised to feel him hug back.
I spent the day with Mr. Jeffrey and we just talked and talked. I saw a different personality in him that day. When I heard horrible news a couple days later, I was so happy to be able to say that I had spent that time with him. He passed away a few days after my visit. I cried and was especially upset when the neighbors gossiped about him not having a funeral.
I was upset for weeks until one day my parents called me into the living room and said that I received a package. It was a small tree, with a bow around the thin trunk and it came with an envelope. When I opened it, there was a page of instructions and tips on how to plant a cherry tree and a small note with only four words on it: “Here –signed, Mr. Jeffrey” with the date of two days previous to his passing. I began to cry, but different from the tears of the previous week, they were tears of joy.
I spent the first week of summer planting and tending to that cherry tree. I was proud of my work with it and I would invite Giavanna to sit with me and marvel over it. I told her that soon enough, we would have heaps of cherries of our own from it. She smiled and told me she couldn’t wait until it got to the size of the big cherry tree like Mr. Jeffrey’s. When she said that, I smiled and thought that now, Mr. Jeffrey is not alone anymore. He and his wife are together under a big cherry tree in the sky.