Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Up a Tree

I was a tree climber when I was a kid. Not that we ever had trees worth climbing in my yard when I was of an appropriate tree climbing age. I had to go to the neighbors’ yards to find the good ones. My friend Kellye had a nice Chinaberry in her backyard a few houses up the street but my favorite was a mimosa tree right next door.

Mimosas had more entertainment value per square inch than any other tree in my neighborhood. The big fan like leaves were perfect for pretend servants to fan a pretend Cleopatra, and the seed pods were great for pretending to pick beans for supper or just tearing up and scattering to the breeze with the soft, tufted blossoms on a windy day. The end result of such play was that every yard on the block had a few mimosa trees of varying sizes, some small saplings, some large enough for not-too-big kids to climb easily.

My neighbor’s mimosa tree stood right in the middle of the back yard but the branches arched almost all the way over to the tall stockade fence between their backyard and mine. It was fortunate that a couple of little boys lived there for a few years when I was in my tree climbing prime. I’d bound out my backdoor, letting the screen slam shut behind me, and head straight for the fence where I’d scramble up to peak over the top and see if Vernon and Davy had finished their breakfast so I could come over and climb their tree with them.  Once we’d shouted our greetings over the fence they’d wave me over I’d head straight for the tree.

I was big enough that with a good jump (it sometimes took two tries) I could reach the lowest branch, then walk my way up the trunk, throw my leg over it and hoist myself up the rest of the way. Vernon was shorter and required a boost but he liked to push his pedal driven tractor over by the tree and climb up on it so he could reach it himself (no safety inspector required). Little Davy was only three so we didn’t help him climb up, at least not after his mama caught him up there with us once. Okay, maybe twice.

Once up on that first branch, I saw a larger branch rising from the trunk at about an 80 degree angle to the left. This is the one that reached toward my house and I could lean my body against it, holding tight to smaller branches, and see the full expanse of my yard next door on the other side of the fence. To my right I saw the dog asleep on the back step of the house across the alley from mine, a sight I could only see from that perch because if it saw me in my backyard it started running and barking along the chain link fence. If I climbed a bit further up that branch I could even see a little over the fence on the far side of my yard into my friend Tony’s backyard, too.  And I could always see the neighborhood kids taking a shortcut through my yard from the alley to the street, something they did often since we were in the middle of the block and our yard had no fence.

Extending in the opposite direction of that branch was a larger one sloping gently upward at about a ten or fifteen degree angle. It was broad enough to seem almost like the floor of a tree house with good strong limbs branching out from it, giving us several options for swinging down to the ground. We played Tarzan and Swiss Family Robinson and we could even sit cross-legged on this big, wide branch and play a game of checkers as though in a room with gently swaying green walls.

Climbing trees was something I could do better than the big kids. That was significant for me, the youngest of three children in my family. Yes, taller kids could sometimes reach those lowest branches more easily than I could but I could climb higher, up into the thinner branches that could easily hold my smaller body as they danced in the wind. My grip was sure and I knew the way to the best footholds on that mimosa. And once I’d found my perfect perch I could stay until I was good and ready to come down because the big kids couldn’t follow.

I had lunch with a friend this week. We don’t see each other that often. Months may go by without exchanging a single word but when that inevitable phone call or visit finally comes, the words tumble out for hours and the visit ends much too soon.

My friend and I have each had our share of challenges the past few years. Our children have grown up, loved ones have aged and passed from this life, our husbands have coped with professional challenges, and our families have struggled with the economy.

During our lunch visit we talked about who we are now, who we used to be and what we’re trying to do with our lives. We have each found it easy to see the good qualities and talents in someone else yet have difficulty seeing them in ourselves. So we spent a great deal of our conversation pointing out these things we’ve always known about each other. I say I’m just a doodler who likes to take pictures and tell stories. She calls me a talented artist, photographer, and writer. She says she’s trying to learn new software and marketing initiatives for their family business and I’m in awe at what she’s accomplished without ever taking a class.

We take turns heaping huge piles of affirmation on each other over plates of ribs and catfish, propping each other up until we can regain our footing, pointing out new possibilities our busy schedules and personal blind spots have prevented us from seeing before.

As I opened the door of her car after saying goodbye and bounded up the walk and into my house I thought, “There is something familiar about this feeling....”  I didn’t know why at first. The same half-finished projects were strewn about my living room, the same To Do list in my notebook on the table, the same bills waiting to be paid.

And then I realized….

I felt like just like that little kid, bounding out the back door into a world of possibilities, secure in the knowledge that my grip was strong, that I knew the best footholds and that my dreams were carried on the breeze.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


This is going to be a long and tiresome campaign season.

It seems to me that on one side we have people who want to move forward, making changes with an eye to the future and on the other side are people who want to restore the glory days of the past. Each of these approaches contains a little good and a little bad but I’m all for moving forward.

I understand why some want to go back, though. They look back and see a simpler, safer time when time itself didn’t move at the breakneck speed it seems to today. As parents, we want to protect our children. It’s our job. We sometimes wish we could place a bubble around our children to protect them from all the bad stuff out there: bumps, bruises, bad guys and broken hearts.

But we can’t.

I know this desire to protect loved ones motivates many political conservatives. They want their government to mirror the values they teach their children. They want to shield them from those who would teach them that any other way of life is acceptable. They want to preserve the world they’ve carefully created for their families and keep out the changes they don’t want.

But they can’t.

Life brings with it changes that cannot be anticipated. Some we are prepared for, some not. But change will come, with or without our cooperation. How you face that change is your choice.

When I was a teenager I sang in the youth choir at my church. Every year we performed a musical and sometimes we took it on tour during the summer. I often played my guitar, once sang a brief solo part, but always sang in the alto section.

And once, I danced a can-can.

The musical told a story about a youth choir rehearsing for the performance of a musical. One song was called “Bubbles and Fizz”, an energetic, enthusiastic number with a really boring alto part on the chorus. We girls in the alto section had no trouble pretending to be teenagers cutting up during a choir rehearsal. As we started to sing that one note that we knew lasted for an interminable number of measures, we linked arms and started kicking up our heels like Rockettes in formation. By the end of the note I confess there was more giggling than singing. We expected our choir director to tell us to knock it off and behave ourselves. But he decided to keep it in and told us to go with it and make the most of it since it fit the story. So we hammed it up, enthusiastically high kicking on the back row at each performance.

I remember the lyrics to that song like it was yesterday. Once you got past the rah-rah part the song slowed and came to a thoughtful resolution:

When it’s over and that’s all there is
Fading bubbles, disappearing fizz
Songs and words, you can forget them, said
Your commitment’s gone.
The feeling’s dead.

You can live in a bubble if you want to.

But bubbles won't last. They fizzle and fade and disappear.

The world will continue to change around you. As a parent I think the best thing is to try to give kids the tools they need to live in the world as it is and teach them how to change it for the better.

Maybe they can make the changes we couldn’t.