I was young in a different time and in a different place. I spent some of my young childhood at a house on Harland Road which was owned by my grandmother, in Norwich, Connecticut . But most of my little-bodied youth was spent on Plain Hill, well before it became any kind of suburban outgrowth of Norwich. It was also a time in the lee of World War Two, if periods of time can have lee sides to them. It was a time when, in the countryside, air traffic was so rare that the whole family might run outside the house to see a passing airplane and even cars passing our house on any given day could number in the single digits. It was peaceful.
On the front lawn of my family’s tiny two-bedroom house stood two trees, an oak and a maple. I don’t know if this trait was shared by my brothers, but I tended to anthropomorphize many things, and in my mind the oak was my dad and the maple was my mom. The oak stood tall and straight. It was unapproachable to small climbers, as it had no low branches at all. Even its lowest branches stood above a height I could reach. The maple had lovely, low-lying, easily accessible branches spaced irregularly, asymmetrically, as if made for climbing. One could practically spiral one’s way up the tree. The ground beneath the maple was soft and inviting, while the ground beneath the oak was hard, sparsely grassed and pebbled with acorns.
No wonder then that my mother, who took one summer off from work to provide summer childcare to her brood of boys, chose sitting under the maple tree for almost daily readings from the monthly, book-form, Reader’s Digest. We’d lay back on blankets that were laid over the soft grass, in the deep but slightly dappled shade of the maple while mother would calm into her reading voice and begin reading. Off to the side, I could still see great cumulus clouds pile up and drift by. I studied them closely searching for the kindly grandfather I never knew but had been told that he was “…up in the sky now.”
The shade of the old maple was cool. Probably because we were uncharacteristically still, we could feel its protective cover wrap us gently, lovingly, I thought. The only book I distinctly remember my mother reading was “Old Yeller.” It was a story with which I could identify, since the family had a big friendly dog who sometimes did stupid things, naughty things, but who might have fought to his death to protect his pack, our family. His name was Chinook. My parents said that the name was Indian for “Friend.” Close enough.
But time under the maple stood still. Afternoons weren’t long, they lasted forever! They were long enough for my mother to read most of a whole, abridged book, long enough for me to nap while she was reading, long enough for me to search the clouds for some image of my grandfather, long enough for me to notice the grass, the shade, the breeze, the calm, and the still but rapt attention that my brothers gave to the story being read, my mother’s loving kindness, her stunning beauty, the natural grace of the maple. I was, as Ekhardt Tolle might have pointed out, in the NOW. And NOW, though it may seem to be but an instant, is essentially eternal. It is always with us.
I can’t go back to that time, and though I could go back to that place, it would never be even remotely the same. In fact, it is barely recognizable. I’ve been by the place twice since growing into adulthood. The first time I drove by, I was dismayed to see two dilapidated junk cars parked where I once parked my little body to gaze skyward. Tall weeds sprouted up to skirt and frame the junkers. Both trees were old and had many bare branches in mid-summer. When I drove past the house many years later, the house seemed much better cared for but both trees were gone, as were the junk cars. The residents were still parking their cars on what had been our lawn, despite there once having been a sweeping side drive and a garage beneath the house. Lawn had become driveway and driveway had become lawn. Surprise!
Such is the nature of change. I have my memories. They are kind and gentle. I only hope to be able to continue to build memories of a similar nature now. Would that it be so!