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The Banyan Tree

September 20, 2018

The tree that meant the most to me as a child was our banyan tree.

My first memories as a child are in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. My father was a naval officer, and we lived in housing on the military base. It was a squat, cinder-block home that was always either sweltering or uncomfortably freezing, depending on how close you were to the wall-mounted air conditioner. We never spent much time inside.

My sisters and I flocked to the banyan tree out front. From a three-year-old's point of view the tree seemed to stretch on and on, forever, all the way up to heaven itself. As an adult I looked at old photos and videos from 1993.  The tree barely crested over the flat roof of our home. But for children that tree was more our home than the base housing. The branches and leaves wove together in a dense canopy that kept the harsh sunlight out but let the ocean breeze in to keep us cool and comfortable. I wasn't ever adventurous enough to climb all the way to the top, but both my sisters walked along branches like they were as common to use as sidewalks, utterly confident and carefree in their balance. The roof was their secret clubhouse, provided Mom and Dad weren't around to see them up there, of course.

Mom and Dad always worried about how unhappy their children must be living on a military base in Cuba. They knew our home wasn't great. There weren't really toys. The closest thing we could get to a toy was a chess/checkers set made of cheap plastic. Our television broke on the move over, and we had neither the funds nor the ability to replace it, what with shipping regulations being so strict. And the children in the base housing were almost all older than us and not all that interested in playing. But my parents never really had to worry. We didn't need any of those things. We had our banyan tree to swing around in, and we were happy for it.

That tree is long since dead. We found a picture of it online, covered in some sort of fungus before it was ultimately cut down. But the memories are still strong. One day, when I'm a father, I want to make sure my daughters have their own tree to play in, where they don't have to worry about anything other than the fun of swinging in a tree.

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