The Golden Seed Grove Of Lemuria
In the Company of Trees
The subdivision was new. The weeping willow was old. We just had moved to a subdivision on a long street, with a cul-de-sac at the end. The homes, in four different styles, were lined neatly next to each other, nice neat little soldiers all. Being brand new, there were no fences, no shrubs, no flowers. But, behind the house two doors away stood the lone willow. It looked terribly out of place in this community of tract homes with yet-to-be-sown lawns. The tree held its own, though, stately and tall, with branches gracefully sweeping the ground. I was in love.
Everyone in the subdivision moved in within a few weeks of each other, right before the start of the school year, that long ago summer in the mid 1950s. All the families ooh-ed and ahh-ed over that tree, the only tree that wasn't felled for the building of that Chicago suburb.
I met my new best friend that summer, Wray Ann. I was doubly lucky. The willow tree was in her backyard. We immediately adopted that tree as our personal hideaway. We got under the tree, closed the branches in front of us like curtains, and swore our allegiance to be blood sisters. Forever. The branches were so long that we could sit under the tree unnoticed. It was the next best thing to a treehouse.
That first year, fall came early. Wray Ann's mother, Jean, told us to come in the house, get some hot chocolate, and do our homework at the kitchen table. Instead, we poured the cocoa in big mugs (loaded with whipped cream, which we usually wound up wearing before left the kitchen), put on warm sweaters and jackets and headed, chocolate, books and sugar cookies, into the backyard, where we sat on the cold ground under our special tree. We didn't let anyone else come under that tree when we were there (selfish little things that we were); we wanted it all to ourselves. "No sisters or brothers allowed! Find your own tree!" Wray Ann would yell at her sister, Lee Ann and little brother, Robin. "But there are no other trees!" they'd wail, running into the house to tell their mother how horrid we were. Wray Ann's mother somehow understood that we needed our privacy because we were left alone to whisper our girlish secrets and share our outrageous fantasies about the way life would be when we were old--like twenty.
We were only five years old the summer we first sat under the tree. As soon as the weather warmed, each year to follow, we grabbed our drinks and cookies and headed to its safety. Our secrets changed over the years. Our dreams changed. But the tree didn't change. Though it got taller, and it's branches longer, it stood fast and strong and tolerant of the growing girls it sheltered. It never divulged our secrets or laughed at our dreams and we, in turn, cherished it and never cut our initials into its lovely bark.
Our conversations changed in later years and eventually grew somber. Wray Ann's mother cried a lot. Her father seldom was home. Then, one day, Wray Ann told me some bad news: Her parents were getting a divorce. Back then, divorce was big news, practically unheard of in our little suburb.
Two months later, a post with a big For Sale sign was forced in the earth in front of her house. Two months after that, Wray Ann was gone. Forever. But the tree remained, now owned by a snotty family who immediately erected a fence, forever cutting me off from the weeping willow, cutting me off from the security of popping over to Wray Ann's house to sit under the tree, cutting me off from a part of my childhood.
We moved later that year, moved to a house with lots of trees, big fir trees, all lovely, but they were not the willow. Some days I think about Wray Ann, and those dreamy days under that willow and wonder, over the years, how many other little girls have hidden beneath its branches, eating sugar cookies, drinking cocoa and sharing secrets.