The memories are under the trees, split and open to the air like the fruit that fell from their branches every year.
There were two trees in the backyard, one crabapple and one pear. Neither was very big, but the backyard was small so they seemed outsized and filled the space. At least they do in the remembering.
They weren’t particularly well cared for. No one ever applied special fertilizers, food or coverings to the ground around them or did anything other than prune the branches every couple years when they started to spill across the fence or too far over the small path that ran between the house and the garage. Each simply was there, in precisely the way trees should be.
It wasn’t the trees themselves that made the backyard such a special place. But it also wouldn’t have been as special without everything the trees provided.
The shade they cast offered a cool respite on hot summer days from the small, post-WWII house that never did have air conditioning.
The patchy grass under them that never seemed to come in fully offered plenty of exposed dirt for uncles to show their nephews how to *safely* throw a pocket knife into the ground so the point went perfectly into the ground.
The small branches and twigs that fell off provided ample material for a grandfather to gather up before sitting his grandsons down on a bench he made himself to teach them how to whittle.
The fruit able to be picked was turned into preserves, jam and other treats, while that which fell displayed clear evidence of having provided sustenance to the local squirrel population.
We never climbed the trees much. It wasn’t who we were and they weren’t tall enough to get very far even if we were. But they were there, steady and steadfast, much like the people who lived there; only changing in that they grew a bit older and more mature, better able to care for and both reflect and understand the world around them.
A commuter/freight line passed by the house and the trees not a hundred yards away, close enough that a baseball hit from under the trees could get lost in the tall grass you could still walk in before the city put up safety fences. The trees never noticed, though. Standing under them was to feel completely safe, protected from the rest of civilization even as the rumbling freight train rattled the ground and drowned out conversations for a few moments.
It’s been 15 years since I was last there, since my grandma passed after surviving her husband by 20 years. I don’t know if the trees are still there providing shelter, respite and enjoyment for whoever lives there now. I hope so. I hope new waves of children and grandchildren have been able to run around them and up them and been told to put that half-chewed crabapple down because they’ll get germs. I hope they’ve watched the branches grow longer and need trimming, picking up “a good piece” to whittle using the pocket knife a father, uncle or grandfather hands them out of their back pocket.
There were other trees, of course, in other yards both front and back. Some were towering and narrow, towering over my youth with small leaves that splayed out from each offshoot like a ribcage. Some were squat but wide, with leaves that burst into bright linen white each spring. Some provided the “helicopter” seeds that fell to the sidewalk for children to throw back in the air.
I hope those two, the crabapple and the pear, are still there in precisely the way trees should be, offering tangible proof of the life the earth provides simply by their presence, requiring little but our awareness and love to thrive.