Pear Tree in the Garden

March 28, 2014
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She remembers kicking, kicking legs—not the strong, robust propellers of a seasoned swimmer or the perfectly lanky gams a Rockette, nor the felonious legs belonging to a guilty man fleeing from his crime. No, these were small, innocent kicking legs that allowed themselves to be bronzed and softened on a baking pavement, brushed by uncut grass, or occasionally chased by the grandparent’s half-blind dog. She remembered not taking notice of the legs’ scrapes, pricks, bruises, and stains that drew themselves onto her skin like a map and disclosed her ventures around the grandparent’s house. Damson stains slathered her right knee, marking an encounter with the overripe blackberry bush and mingling among yesterday’s scrapes from the thorns of a rose shrub. Blackberry juice trickled alongside the palm-sized yellowy-green bruise she acquired after the kicking legs betrayed her balance and let her tumble into the worn wood of the grandparent’s antiquated stereo.

The little girl who owned those fickle legs loved that stereo—she would squeeze herself into the tightest corner of the grandparents’ deep plum chesterfield, rest her elbows between the ribbed velvet of its armrest, and repose her chin to her palms. Sometimes when she was tired—especially after a sweltering summer afternoon of watching the grandmother dig furiously at her garden—she would surrender to her strained neck muscles and doze upon that armrest, while still in her paisley cotton play-clothes. A delicious sleep was always to be had beside the croons of Nat King Cole and under the dim light of a lavender-colored lamp’s equally lavender-colored bulb.

Wide, brown eyes would watch the turntable methodically as the stereo hummed to live, and a metal arm affectionately caressed the side of a record’s shiny black vinyl. Her kicking legs started up their favorite past time as they pumped to the beat of the Bee Gees (the grandfather’s favorite), Bobby Goldsboro (the grandmother’s favorite), or The Carpenters (the girl’s favorite). And spin, spin, spin—oh! the beauty of its rotation and simplicity, and the sweet replying sound of a child’s feet that would beat dents into the plum davenport and fought to be heard over the spinning sha-la-la-las of soft rock.

She would watch the concentric lines starting from the outside of the record progressively become smaller, smaller, smaller, into its center—like the loops inside the stump of an old tree. If she had chosen to become a dendrologist as her profession, she could have slain the old pear tree in the backyard, count the engrained circles to determine its age, and excuse it all on curiosity and the name of science.

She remembers the grandmother singing Goldsboro when she worked beside the old pear tree in the backyard garden. A clear vibrato imitating the singing style of 1940s sirens the grandmother heard as a child resonated in summer air.

“Maeve, would you like to dance?” the grandmother would ask through a crooked, eager smile, her singing voice still ringing in the air. Deep-set wrinkles hugged her lips and kissed the corners of her eyes. The grandmother crouched down onto the dirt and grass to face the little girl eye-to-eye, as she always did (she gave no thought to the grass stains she would eventually have to wash off her knees). In that moment, they were equals. The little girl would nod her head until the brown curls of her head shook. They then would hold hands and sway with the other life in the garden.

The grandmother always wore the same short purple jumpsuit over her sweaty skin, while she grew tan and leathery in the sun. In her work uniform, she danced water on spikey veronicas and purple Russian sage. She waved to the smiling faces of the pansies, astilbe, and asters. She acknowledged the daisies, roses, and peonies, smiled at the daffodils, Black-Eyed Susans, and coral-bells, and frowned at the overgrown switchgrass and Siberian irises.

The grandmother’s garden was gorgeously abundant with every color, texture, and scent of plant imaginable. But the flowers only framed the star of the garden: a drooping pear tree, plum in the middle of the backyard. The pear tree wasn’t pretty like the flowers: ant swarms would occasionally erupt from under its roots, and overripe or wormy fruit would hang precariously off sagging limbs. But the tree never needed to burden itself with worries of inadequacy, as it was simply and permanently the heart and focus of the garden. And the tree was loved so tenderly—it still is. Flowers are weak and capricious—the grandmother’s flowers would dehydrate and whither in the summer’s scorching sun, frost over and crack their petals in the winter, and some even had the gall to refuse budding in the spring. But amidst the trunk’s unsightly ruddy patches and low production of actually edible pears, the tree was reliable, accountable, and predictable.

Even now, the young woman notices the tree’s strength, its resilience. The ample garden’s flowers that once stood proud and unaccompanied with strong, straight backs have grown old, old like the grandparents. Bad backs ensue the flowers’ hunched stems, which cause their buds to face the dirty ground and submit to invading weeds that loom threateningly about them. Thronged flowers cling to each other to make themselves as small, small, small as possible, forming intertwined and mangled necks that look of a Dr. Frankenstein creation. But the tree still stands, just as it did when the grandfather planted it some thirty years ago: wonderfully unchanging.

And today, the young woman envisions herself as a child admiring flowers, swaying with the grandmother, resting on the velvet chesterfield, getting tangled in thorns and blackberries, and kicking, kicking, kicking. It is unbeknownst even to her when old thoughts and visions resurface, but she always intercepts them willingly, oh so willingly. The young woman immerses herself in a fragrant bouquet of memories, and sentimentally she traces her fingers over the soft petals of a childhood that covers her mind. She relishes the tender feel of a simplicity so sacred, yet so distant and hazy. Remembering the past in this image is a daunting task, like trying to trap the fleeting life of a newly fallen petal between the pages of a heavy book.

At times, she allows herself to slip away into the enticing coma of watching the little girl. Dreamy memories appear to her framed in the most delicious floral scent—and sometimes, she hardly knows if she is still watching the young girl, or instead if a figment of her imagination has replaced the veracity of the girl, the garden, the grandparents.

Last but not least, an old, old memory appears—one the young woman hasn’t thought of in years. It is a nightmare that grew grotesquely out of a severe bout of chicken pox (the pox brought about hallucinations—and countless cups of the grandfather’s remedy for all illness: black tea with honey and whiskey). A woman in pearls encountered the pear tree afire, and from the crackling light it spoke, relaying something like it was a reference from Exodus. The woman felt subjugated by the tree’s newfound mightiness, and she never liked to feel subjugated (especially by something as rudimentary as this so-called nature). She eyed the hose next to a bunch of surreal, cartoonish in-bloom hyacinths, and she knew what she had to do. The woman in pearls grabbed the grandmother’s plastic water canister, and pumped it with clean, clear water from the hose until it teemed with iridescence. She doused the pear tree—yet, not even an un-charred fruit from the poorest, worm-infested section so much as quivered from the drooping branches.

The woman in pearls stood with her hands on her hips, perplexed as the tree only grew brighter and spoke louder. No, not speaking—singing. It sang with the memories of a little girl sitting on a plum-colored velvet couch and listening to her favorite Carpenters song.

A young woman emerges from the young girl she once was, and she trims down the overgrown blossoms of memory in her mind. Cuts, cuts, cuts, she does. The young woman slashes thoughts of kicking, of a plum-colored chesterfield, of spinning vinyl and Black-Eyed Susans, of whiskey in her tea and a droopy pear tree. Her childhood quivers on its stem before collapsing into a fragrant abyss. She packages the memories neatly into a mental storage box, pats its brimming top, and retires her previous self for now—or until her personal spring encourages budding once again.

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