I know that someday you'll find better things.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

When the Willow Stopped Weeping

Eden was the tiny little dead-end street that bordered the south side of my old house. There were only two destinations at the end of that glorified driveway: a small church of unmemorable denomination and a clubhouse for a local chapter of the IOOF. That’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and were they ever! Both venues were fascinating and provided me with unparalleled people-watching opportunities.

I loved that house, inside and out. It was small but efficient, and the floor-plan was fantastic. Shortly after we purchased the home, we discovered beautiful hardwood floors beneath the blasé beige berber carpet.  There was a big covered front porch and a huge backyard. Huge for a city-dweller, at least.  Also out back was a large paved patio, a meat smoker, and a hot tub with a beautiful wooden cabana for privacy. Most exciting of all, there were seven trees on the property.

In Texas!

Two pear trees, a fluffy crape myrtle, a stately elm, a mature maple, a tall and wispy pine, and a big beautiful weeping willow, and they were all ours.

We two northern-transplants had found a piece of paradise right there on the corner of Edinburg and Eden.

Everything remained heavenly until the neighbor who lived diagonally across the street started a new job, and whatever he was doing now involved a Bekins big rig. According to our city’s ordinances, big rigs were not allowed to loiter within city limits, especially in residential neighborhoods. I’m assuming that Major Payne knew this, as he very deliberately began ‘hiding’ this giant tractor-trailer truck on Eden Street, where he would let the engine idle all night and all day.

So there it rumbled incessantly, less than ten feet from the wing of the house that contained all three bedrooms, including the nursery of brand-new-baby Mia.

This image from the Bekins site is not the exact truck, but it did look exactly like this one. I have nothing against Bekins, just the person with poor judgment whom they hired.

As you can imagine, I was already sleep-deprived and livid about this new development.
Mia’s dad was livid, too, but for a different reason.

“Did you see? His big stupid truck snapped off one of the lower limbs of the pine!” Mia’s dad rarely raised his voice, preferring to convey his displeasure with a very expressive scowl. This was the most riled up I’d ever seen him. “And that was my favorite tree,” he muttered.

Favorite tree?

I hadn’t realized we could choose favorites. But if we could choose favorites, I was going to claim that weeping willow—the only one in the neighborhood and possibly in our entire city.

Despite its elegance, it was the unabashed underdog of our entire tree collection. It received the most attention, to be sure. Nearly everyone commented on it, but their words were rarely complimentary.

Weeping willows are so aggressive.
They'll stop at nothing to get to water.
You'll be sorry when it breaks your pipes.
Nothing but trouble, those willows.
Better hope it’s on the city side of the easement codes, or you’re in for a world of hurt.
But oh, how I loved that tree. It had a way of magnifying the mood of the day. If a light breeze swayed those graceful tendrils, the hottest day could seem tolerable. Pleasant, even. When a storm would roll through and whip those strands horizontally in the wind, the willow would look like the mythological Medusa, writhing in tangled angst.

It was mesmerizing.

One evening as I attempted to put Mia to bed to the roaring lullaby of the semi nearby, I heard a loud musical crash from outside. It was the unmistakable sound of a dropped guitar, all strummy vibrations with echoes of chords, but this was not traditionally an outdoor noise, nor was it usually of earth-shaking volume. There were no cars in either of the parking lots at the end of Eden, so I scooped up the baby and stepped out the front door to investigate.

The willow had toppled over.

Moments later, doors of nearby houses opened and neighbors arrived from every direction. There was Barney Rubble from across Eden, whose backyard (though well-camouflaged by foliage) contained all kinds of mysterious car parts and other treasures that would have made Sanford and Son green with envy. Next came the friendly octogenarian Bob, who was an original homeowner during the residential building boom of 1968, and who made the most enchanting whistle through his dentures when he spoke, especially about his favorite topic—the civet cat. (Sssssssivit cat!) Bob’s sweet elderly next-door neighbor Cruz stood vigil from her porch across the street, and because she had limited mobility and spoke virtually no English, she communicated her concern with a meaningful nod. Major Payne was one of the last to report to the scene, and he even turned off his rig for the occasion.

The sudden silence was as disarming as the cacophony from the event itself.

We stood around solemnly, mourners at this makeshift deathbed, looking at the tree and each other and again at the tree. Finally somebody said a few somber words about this being the work of the draught. Worst one in years, he said, and there were nods of agreement all around.

That poor willow just laid there all sprawled in the little intersection, and I swear you could see its soul evaporating.

The neighbors turned to me with question-marked faces. I shrugged.

Then they all dispersed to get their chainsaws.

Before long, it wasn’t a tree at all.
It was their firewood.
It was their project fodder.
The remains—mostly those lovely locks--were heaped curbside at the edge of the driveway, awaiting their fate.

Reincarnation as city-produced mulch?

A few weeks later, we tried to plant some flowers in the little hollowed-out space we carved in the remaining stump. This only made it look more like a headstone. Of course, the flowers didn’t thrive, and now it looked like death-on-death, and it was just easier to not look at the edge of the property any more.

Months passed. Several houses changed hands, and the new neighbors had no notion of the beauty that once filled that corner. I wondered if they’d ever seen a weeping willow in real life, such a rare joy in our draught-ravaged region.

After the divorce, Mia’s dad kept the house but removed the stump altogether, and now there is no evidence that it ever existed at all. But I still think about that willow and the tragedy surrounding its life and death. 

Everyone was so eager to give it a bad reputation, but in the end, it was its lack of greed that caused its demise—a sort of thirst-driven suicide, I suppose.

And the entire situation is rife with the sad irony that this majestical earthen creature with such a sorrowful name died of dehydration. It had spent its whole life weeping, and now it was all cried out, not a single tear left.

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