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She hugged the tree before we left, wrapping her thin, childish arms around the peeling, white bark. With tears in her eyes, she pleaded, “Can’t we take it with us?”

But she knew the answer before I could even reply.

“We can’t, can we. The new owners would be sad. It’s such a pretty tree.” She caressed the soft bark as if consoling a dear friend.

Already the movers had loaded the upstairs and were quickly emptying the contents of our garage. Soon, we would need to move on.

I wrapped my arms about my middle. The morning was cool. Summer was ending, and the tree’s leaves had already started transforming from the deep green of late summer to the golden yellow of early fall. A gentle breeze rippled through the tree’s branches and a lone leaf fell to the ground.

She caught it and held it with reverence in her cupped hands. “Can I keep it?”

I nodded and told her to give her tree one last hug before we left. The breeze whipped up and around pushing me closer to my daughter who cried freely, mourning the loss of her favorite tree and the only home she had ever known. In her innocent grief, she had expressed the sorrow I refused to examine. I would mourn this tree, too, and the little home beyond which had protected my family as we grew.

“Mama, are you crying?”

I wiped the moisture from my eyes and patted the old tree before grabbing her small hand in mine. “It’s just the wind stinging my eyes. Come on. It’s time to go.”

After we moved, we drove by the old house every once in a while and she examined her tree through the car window, her tiny nose pressed against the glass to better see her old friend. “It’s grown taller!” she’d exclaim, or “See how beautiful it is against the white snow.”

Then one day I woke up and my little girl was no longer a little girl. Other interests consumed her and months had passed since she and I had connected in any meaningful way, yet the changing season brought with it the promise of new beginnings. It was a good day to see her tree. 

I knocked on her door and asked if she’d like to drive by, but she rolled her eyes and said, “It’s just an old tree.” She closed the door and resumed talking on her cell. I could hear her laughter through the solid wooden panel. She sounded so grown-up, yet as I strained to hear, a faint echo of the girl she once had been broke through, and I smiled. I would make the journey today for her.

It was spring and I knew there would be thousands of beautiful fresh green buds on its branches. Spring had always been her favorite season because everything grew again. I could almost here her small voice in the backseat telling me  which flowers bloomed first, and I smiled. It soon changed to a frown when I drove past and all I saw was a stump.

They had cut it down. My hands shook and my vision blurred. Sniffing,  I pulled off the side of the road and cried. I cried for the lost tree and for the little girl with wide brown eyes and tangled brown locks who had loved it.

When I finally drove home, she was waiting for me out on the front porch, her knees tucked up under her chin. Her over-sized sweatshirt hung loosely about her small frame making her seem much younger than she was. The wind blew through her curls, whipping chestnut strands across her cheeks.

I sat next to her on the porch and she looked at me closely. “Were you crying, mom?”

“Just a little sentimental today. Nothing to worry about.” I patted her hand and was surprised when she took it and squeezed.

“Did you drive by the tree today?”

I turned sharply to face her and held her gaze with my own.

I nodded.

“And how did it look?”

I examined the face which was as familiar to me as my own, and studied the young woman she had become. Wide, serious eyes, full lips and a stubborn chin, she had changed so much from the child she had been, yet in other ways she had hardly changed at all. She shredded a dead leaf in her hand, and I knew she was anxious for my answer.

She had always been an anxious child. Even that day when we had left her tree behind, she had been anxious for its welfare. “Will the new owners know how to care for it?” she had asked, her childish voice trembling.

I remembered how small her arms had looked wrapped around the massive trunk and a peculiar tightness settled in my chest. I closed my eyes and recalled the feeling of those fragile arms around my neck as she hugged me good-night. Tears welled in my eyes and I blinked several times to clear them.

I smoothed a curl behind her ear and smiled, happy to see the worry lining her eyes and mouth ease. “Beautiful,” I said. “Exactly  as I remembered.”

She sighed and leaned her head against my shoulder.

“It always did look best in spring.”

©Sara Ackerman, 2016





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