My dad loved everything living. He’d go around the house glass and piece of cardboard in hand to trap a wayward fly, so that he could release it outside. I did the unthinkable once and tossed a potted twig after it sat on the kitchen table for months and months without sprouting. Dad rescued it and admonished my impatience.
Well, he was right. It started budding, and come spring he planted it in the backyard. Somewhere he found an open spot among the fruit trees, mulberry bushes, and bamboo stalks he had already put in that crazy space.
OK, Dad was a bit eccentric. He was a dreamy minded artist. We moved to a conventional suburban neighborhood, into a twin home with regular working class neighbors. The adjustment was rough, for us at least. Mom stayed inside most of the time, and Dad was oblivious. But once the pecking order reshuffled to accommodate the new kids on the block, (my sisters and I), we made friends and developed regular routines. Besides the other girls actually on our short dead end street, there were a couple of really nice families nearby. Donahues and Tierneys. The Donahues were a large Catholic family. They occupied a huge Victorian. Their backyard consisted of a multi-bayed garage, some worn spots, and an ancient Elm. That tree was about 3 ½ stories high and so thick two kids had to join hands to encircle it. One stormy night early on in our time there, a large branch broke off, partially landing on the garage. Sadly, the break revealed all was not well with the tree. So Mr. Donahue did the sensible thing, and cut it down. The process took over a day of constant chain saws and cracking limbs. Even now the felling of an old tree gives me deep sadness.
Sometime after that, new neighbors moved into the small row home on the end of our block. Mrs. McKinley, her ailing husband, and their youngest son, Jon. Mr. McKinley passed soon after the move, and Mrs. McKinley poured her energies into her postage stamp sized front and back yards. She grew everything. It was a jungle of green and flowers. Viney plants on trellises, large leaved ground plants, shade and cool, and as an accommodation to convention, a small privet hedge neatly trimmed along the front yard’s narrow sidewalk, in some sort of vain attempt to keep everything contained.
Our family lived in our house for about 30 years. Neighbors came and went. Jon grew up and moved away. My sisters and I grew up and moved too. Mrs. McKinley stayed. My dad became ill, and after many years, died. Mrs. McKinley visited my mom, to share books and talk. One day she pointed out something sprouting in her and Mom’s hedges. Of all things, Elm saplings.