Along her quiet street in Steger, Illinois, Grandma Yushkevich had her own mini farm to feed her eight children. The strawberry patch had its own picket fence to protect her tiny sweet gems. Never, ever were we ever to go into that gated area. Only in the Spring, we were treated to her strawberry-rhubarb pie. Heaven on a pie plate.
Beyond that quarantined garden, beyond the lilac bush and the plum tree was grass. Towering above are five Catalpa trees. Almost 120 years old, these trees provided blissful memories for five of her 13 grandchildren.
The catalpa has large heart-shaped leaves, more than adequately providing a shady haven in our corner of the world. In the autumn, we crunched through the fallen leaves like marching soldiers. The seedpods, like long cigars, littered the lawn. All winter long, the stately catalpas broke the snowy blasts on the Eastside of her property, standing guard over the empty garden plots and that dormant strawberry patch.
Spring has sprung. The leaves suddenly unfurled again on those fifty-foot tall trees. Mother's Day was scented by the lilac. In the luxury of an early summer day, we drug out our blankets including Uncle’s brown-green woolen blanket from the Navy. The Catalpa trees were in full blossom. The large flowers were almost orchid-like opening in a pyramidal triangle all over each tree. Surely the bees and bugs enjoyed their nectar.
In fact, one year a swarm of bees led by their wise Queen Bee, formed a hive in the smallest Catalpa on the north end of the stately row. We little kids were protected as we watched a beekeeper arrive to capture the Queen and her whole court of workers and relocate them to a new home.
If you look very carefully, you will find a strong nail embedded in one of the trees. Uncle had hung his hammock between two of the catalpas and leisurely swayed in the peace of those trees. He even allowed us kids to enjoy the sensation.
The catalpa flowers now rained upon us as we camped on our blankets. We were a squealing happy band of fairies in the wood. With string, we sat for hours making catalpa flower necklaces, crowns, and bracelets. Sometimes garlands 3 bands thick entwined all areas of our bodies.
The large blossoms fit so happily on all 10 of our fingers. They were our animated flower puppets. Our flower-tipped fingers rhythmically danced to songs and poems.
This was the primary function of these spotted white frilly pseudo-orchids with proud little ruffled hat brims.
What is my favorite tree? The stately strong Catalpa. I visited with cousins as they raked the large crunchy leaves and cigar seedpods one more time. It was 65 years after making those flowery crowns and the five trees still show strength. The strawberries, rhubarb, the gardens, along with Grandma’s pioneer house, shed and barn are all gone. But the Catalpa trees remain.