|Title:||"Under the Weeping Willow Tree"|
Upon the death of my oldest brother Raymond on 9/4/21, my siblings and I paused to recall some of the memorable experiences of our younger days. Brother Ray taught me a very important lesson at a very young age, I reflected. We were growing up in the rural town of Bonneauville, PA. I was nary ten years old but I would well remember the event for a lifetime.
It started as a brotherly challenge involving two giant matching weeping willow trees near the headwaters of Chicken Run, the creek that flowed through our back yard on Hanover Street.
The twin trees seemed to selfishly love having their lower branches massaged by young bare feet. In turn, the bare feet were gently messaged by the texture of the bark. There was a friendly symbiotic relationship at play here.
The day was a perfectly clear azure blue sky one. Just a few puffs of the whitest white billowy clouds lazily drifted overhead. The willows, although graceful as they shimmered in the summer breeze, were deceiving in their sensual Hula like motion.
Both willow trees offered a plethora of huge low branches - in a probable effort to lure the young and weak of mind into their sinewy embraces. Sort of like a Venus Fly Trap on a human scale.
Being a year and a half older than me, Ray had a height advantage but not necessarily one of speed. The curious challenge he laid down, was a race in the vertical rather than the horizontal plane. Something different. Perhaps I took the race as a double-dog-dare. There was a look of angered anticipation on one side of his face and a quirky smile on the other side. Like he was sure he was going to outsmart me or something.
He wanted to race me up the willow trees. Whomever reached the highest point won; (as judged by whom was yet to be understood). Our younger siblings (all born in the 1950’s) were present. A baby sitter was not. The longstanding parental rule; “Do not climb the trees” was agreed to be null and void since both mom and dad were at work.
There were no rules or restrictions. I would win this one for certain. I was sure of it.
I stood on grass clad ground focusing on the branches from the bottom up. Anticipation of the simple word “Go” had my adrenalin pumps fired up. It must have been like revving a custom Harley at the start of a hill climb. I was choosing my path with cunning.
The word “go” was not preceded by “ready or “set”. There was simply a wimpy little “go”, which I had hoped Ray did not hear.
Ha! Perhaps he didn’t. I immediately had the lead. I had traversed the branches at their lower altitudes enough times before to realize that I had the better tree. Up I sped. The bulky branches that I had to wrap both arms around and skinny up, were soon behind me. Higher branches were soon decreasing in diameter enough to offer a surer grip. At about two inches in diameter, the mid-height branches were the perfect size for grasping. The green bark was now of an unfamiliar cool, and smooth texture. They were a pleasant contrast to those with gnarly, scratchy brown bark way below. I was in unfamiliar territory now. The trees sported their particular balmy fragrance. I was ascending at the speed of a barnstormer in a bi-plane. I was fluid motion.
Ray seemed to have stopped at a comfortable fork about a half way up his tree. He wasn’t climbing, just breathing heavily and smiling. Possibly he stopped to see how it was really done by an expert?
He knew he had lost the race. Or did he?
My grip was now firmly upon branches less the size of a broom handle. My thought process was acting as if the air was getting a little thin way up there. Until then, I had not looked down. When I did, the definition of skyscraper suddenly became a little bit clearer.
In the rapid succession of tree climbing, one’s foot quickly becomes the resting place that one’s hand recently occupied. My foot was on a smooth green branch of about one inch diameter. Toes were gripping like an orangutan of grade school science class lore. Springing forward I came to a point where golden green leaf covered branches began to weep toward the ground. The leaves fluttered gently in the soft summer breeze like the dragonfly wings flittering at the creek far below.
My next hand grip embraced a cluster of twigs about the diameter of yellow school pencils. I was so determined to win that I still hadn’t slowed down. The robins seemed to be rapidly evacuating their treetop nesting sites as I burst through the top canopy.
I did not remember one thing for perhaps a half an hour after that.
I didn’t even remember passing Ray on the way down. Did he wave? Did he still have that stupid smirk on his face?
Upon contact with terra firma, my younger siblings waiting below had enough time to make decisions, go to grandma Bertha’s house, arouse her from her afternoon nap (a critical faux pas) and have her come to the trees and figure out why I was still not moving. My sister Christine, apparently having watched too many episodes of Wagon Train on the old black and white TV, thought that I had died.
When I awoke, there standing like a brontosaurus over its lame prey was Grandmother Bertha.
From my perspective lying there, her vintage 1950’s floral pattern dress, backlit by the afternoon sun, made it look as if I was lying in a field of daisies – pushing up daisies was the confusing mental image.
As my vision began to clear, one of those billowy white clouds was just passing over Bertha’s head. Her hair matched the cloud perfectly and sort of gave the appearance of a halo. That’s when I must have known it was time to regain consciousness.
Grandma seemed to be prodding me with the toe of the old black shoes she slipped on for the occasion. She must have been attempting to determine if there were signs of life. Perhaps she was checking to see if Rigor mortis had set in yet.
I was void of comment when I first awoke, Ray still wore that unexplainable snicker on his face as if to say; “Choose wisely; In some races, the winner is the looser.”
Ray never in his life conceded the race, nor was I foolish enough to claim the win.
Thank you, Raymond. R. I. P.
Cat. No. 2999-03