Emotions and memory are a complicated pair.
I’m sure we all have cringe-worthy memories that make us feel a bit anxious, or forlorn. Or happy memories that put a bounce in our steps and smile on our faces.
A few weeks back, my sister shared a picture on social media of the maple tree in my mother’s front yard. The tree was dead, and had been cut down.
I felt like I lost an old friend. I may have even shed a tear or two.
That tree was as much a part of my childhood as a tree could be. Its leaves made for huge, fragrant leaf piles for jumping; its shade made for a perfect spot for playing with trucks and making cities; its shadows at night made the perfect setting for spooky stories. We’d race to that tree, and use its base as a “safe” space in games of tag.
Its branches were too high for climbing. That was saved for the willow tree in the backyard, or the pine trees at the bottom of the property — and I’m sorry, Mom, for all the pine pitch-covered clothes of my youth.
Many of those pine trees have since expired, and the willow split in a bad storm a few years ago.
The loss of that maple tree hit me harder. It was the first thing one would see of my parents’ house when coming down the road, and around the sharp turn.
You can’t go home again, as the Thomas Wolfe novel proclaimed. I had a lengthy discussion recently with a friend, a bit of a nomad, about the meaning of home. An offhand remark about “home” he’d made to a relative years before had caused some offense, but he didn’t know why.
I knew immediately.
Home is not so much a place as it is a memory, a feeling. A place where one is loved, where one feels safe. It isn’t a building, or a maple tree.
I explained to him I’ll always have a home with my family, and they will always have a home with me. The same with my friend. His remark caused offense because he will always have a home with family, which was something he hadn’t considered.
I’ve never been a wealthy person, or even “comfortable,” and neither have most people I’ve known. We didn’t go on extravagant vacations, we didn’t have a lake house or a camp somewhere to visit for recreation. We’d spend summers outside, and maybe on weekends, we’d visit my mother’s family in Westline. There, too, the days would be spent outside.
Nothing looks the same as it did when I was a child. The huge, open field near my parents’ house really isn’t that big. The small stream in the backyard isn’t the giant lake we’d see when we made swimming holes. And it doesn’t take five hours to get to Westline, like it seemed when we were stuffed in the “back back” of the family’s station wagon to make the trip.
It’s difficult explaining all that to my daughter. She grew up far differently than I did. She was born with a heart defect, and I was much more cautious about her swimming in streams and climbing trees and swinging from random vines in the woods.
She climbed the apple tree at her grandparents’ house with her cousins, that is until she got a spider bite on her knee. That bite went from painful to oh-no in a short order. She ended up having to have it treated at the hospital in Pittsburgh when she went for a heart procedure.
She never climbed a tree again. And oddly, didn’t want to watch the movie “Eight Legged Freaks” with me, either.
Because of the tremendous risk to her health when she was younger, she never chewed a mint leaf freshly harvested from the bank. She didn’t eat the awful-wonderfulness that was rhubarb picked and eaten raw right from the garden. Or the elderberries picked right from the bush.
Of course, we never cleaned anything before eating it, either. We must have had cast-iron constitutions.
Or it could be my Mother’s version of the famous quote: “God watches out for children, fools and old women.”
(Marcie Schellhammer is the Era’s assistant managing editor. She can be reached at email@example.com)