I laugh inside every time I hear friends or neighbors complain about cottonwood trees. The tiny seeds floating in puffs of cotton, yes, clogging the air conditioner, are a joy to me.
I am four years old. I am making up a game where you hide behind the bushes at the front door, wait to see a car coming down the lazy neighborhood street, and race to the big cottonwood tree in the middle of the front lawn before the car passes. For some reason, unknown even to me, I call this game "Train."
I am nine years old. I am tall for my age. My friend Janet and I, having mastered climbing a small tree next to her garage, tackle the cottonwood tree. The lowest limb is out of reach. But we have a great idea. Janet puts her hands together, I step in her hands, she gives a boost, and I swing myself up and I am so happy! But there is Janet on the ground. I climb down and boost her up. But then, there I am on the ground. How can we both be up there? There is one solution. We go to the garage and find my father's hatchet. After a certain amount of debating and estimating, we cut a small notch in the tree about a foot and a half up. We can just get our heels into it and each climb up by ourselves. We have a lovely time up in that tree, satisfied as two squirrels.
I am 10 years old. Our parents are gone for the day and Grandma is here babysitting us. I am up in the tree on a limb level with a second-floor bedroom window. The window is open on that warm summer day, curtains gently blowing in the wind. I am watching my grandmother come in the room with a mop and start mopping the floor. After awhile, she straightens up, glances out the window, and startled, she yells, "Beth! What are you doing up in that tree! Get down, you could fall!"
"I won't fall Grandma, the tree is strong."
"Get down! Get down right now!" She will not give in to my protests.
"But you do know," I mutter as I carefully work my way down, "this is the dangerous part."
I am 11 years old. I am sitting in the living room on a chair with my feet up, looking out the front window at our tall cottonwood. The afternoon light is shining on the leaves, and the breeze is making them flutter in that wonderful way that cottonwoods have.
I am 12 years old. I am crying. The Cottonwood has been cut down due to problems with the sewer system. Janet and my little sister Kathy and I are having a funeral at the tree stump. I make a sign and we tack it to the stump where it remains until the day the stump is removed.
I am 57 years old. I am going through my father's files after his death. I find the sign.