I recall standing before the ornamental fruit trees at Lowe's in the classic cliched agony of indecision just a few months ago. Which would it be--the crabapple or the cherry? It was going to be one or the other; I had made up my mind that the patio required a vertical element to be truly complete. I was not leaving without a tree and a pot.
The kids were getting restless, monkeying around on the wooden risers that the trees were displayed upon and offering their opinions. I tuned them out, standing silently before the trees, arms crossed over my chest as I did a mental eenie-meenie-miney-moe and waited for the answer to hit me. There was something about that crabapple...something that appealed and yet repelled all at once. The cherry was scrawny and feeble looking, with spotty leaves. It tugged at me, though.
I picked up the cherry and plunked it in the cart.
Months later, as I stand outside on the patio and marvel at this whacked out Virginia weather, I have to smile at my cherry. Virginia hits us with seventy degree Mondays, thirty-four degree Monday nights, and Tuesdays that are in the forties and spitting indignant rain. Wednesday heralds a stalled out Hurricane Ida and the return of sixty and seventy degree temperatures, albeit accompanied by gusty winds and rain. My poor cherry tree can't quite wrap her seasonally-challenged mind around it all, apparently thinks it's spring, and has burst into beautiful pink bloom.
Which is fine, as long as she blooms again, when she's supposed to. I feel a little sorry for her...this eager little Charlie Brown tree singing salutations to Spring and headed straight for a smackdown with Winter.
But believe it or not, that's not totally my point. I've gotten a little off track. It occurred to me today, as I was admiring these beautiful pink cherry blossoms, why the crabapple tree just wouldn't work. Why it repulsed even as it twisted the gut with a strange sense of familiarity and comfort.
When I was little, my brothers and I used to spend time at "the Farm," the place where my dad and his brother, Harvey had grown up--a wonderland of crops, cows, properly stinky pigs, strawberries to pick warm from the sun, sleepy kittens to hunt in the hayloft, tractor rides smelling of diesel...it was paradise, setting sparks to my imagination along with the occasional stubbed toe and skinned knee.
There was a twisty, gnarled old crabapple tree near the back-door to the farmhouse, right above the well. I used to climb on the cement-covered top of the well and pretend it was my throne, or stage, or castle wall. My older brother, Chris, would climb the crabapple tree. It was the perfect height for climbing. Crabapples don't grow too big, and their limbs are just right for a child's hands to grip. He was climbing that day, while I was playing just below on the well.
My recollection of the ensuing events is somewhat fragmented; it begins slowly and then gathers speed and momentum until everything blurs together into the muzzy blink of a dream sequence--sort of like the gaining lurch of a locomotive's wheels as they barrel toward you down the track. There's a sense of inevitability, but that train seems so ponderous as it begins its journey.
I remember Harvey coming out of the house and pausing on his way to some errand in the barn. "Boy, get down from there and stop playing around..." He stopped, perhaps wondering why Chris didn't respond to him. I remember looking up into the limbs of the crabapple, and seeing him dangling upside down amidst the tight little green apples that were bitter to the taste, pinkish blood bubbling from his nose. I remember a sort of slow-motion tumble out of the tree, halted as he was pulled into the waiting and panicked arms of his uncle.
He'd been electrocuted.
Grabbed for a branch and grabbed a power line instead. Every place that his body had touched a branch or leaf was seared, with the current exiting through his foot. He was lucky, though--he escaped relatively intact, bearing a silvery map of scars, a few skin grafts, and a couple of webbed toes as the remnants of his ordeal.
My cherry tree doesn't seem so pathetic suddenly, bursting into song as it is. As I ponder the subconscious reason behind my choice, its November blossoms take on a different character. One of thanksgiving.