Last week as we drove home from her hairdo appointment, down a shady tree-lined street, my mother said, “I just can’t understand what would make any two people divorce. Why would they do that?” Sometimes I let her wacky statements go with a nod and a smile. But I’d lived in our household; I could not let that pass without a reality check. I said, “You divorced Dad!” My mother said, mildly, “I never did.” I said, “You kicked him out of the house my freshman year of college. Divorce came later.” She didn’t protest or say a word. She had completely forgotten his indiscretions, her years of isolated grieving.
For her, marriage produced five great children and provided adventure (as an Air Force wife, she lived 19 places in 25 years). She had flown the Utah coop. She’d lived in Japan. She played golf on more courses than Campbell’s has soups. And now she has forgotten the strains and agonies that accompanied that journey. You may not like tapioca but it has a pleasing flavor on my mother’s tongue.
As for trees: my mother used to vacuum her patio Astroturf, cursing the box elder trees that dared to send their seed pods down into her seven square feet of the great outdoors. Her hatred of trees was so pronounced, I often had to excuse myself from the room. I’m a landscape designer. Trees are the answer, in my book. The only thing that kept me sane as a teenager in Davis County, Utah was escaping to the mountains, following deer paths through the scrub oak, jumping off sandy cliffs with tree-root tendrils flying overhead, shooting the tube in old irrigation culverts among tree canopy and dirt ravines.
Now, trees are my mother’s dearest friends.
When we moved her out of her condo into assisted living two years back, I made sure that her window had a view. She loves looking out on the world. And this particular view is a Utah treasure. Mount Olympus defines the skyline, and her parking lot is ringed with maples, pear and apple trees, sycamore, box elder and ailanthus/trees of heaven. I thought she would enjoy watching the comings and goings of the staff and visitors. But my mother stands bewitched by the moods of the wind in those trees. She reports on their bird visitors. She laughs like she has the scoop on intimate friends.
These walks are nothing short of miraculous, for me—to hear this old heathen tree-hater stand in awe of her family riches. And that’s what makes me admire and love my mother. She has changed. She allows delight in. She seeks delight where there was anger and boredom and judgment. And if she recreates her past by siding with the joyful and calm and beautiful, well that’s an affliction I hope many of us encounter with age. The world could forget plenty of its grudges. And walking with my mother, it seems our primary job on earth is to remember the overwhelming bounty of its joys.
Thanks to Exploring the World of Trees for the photo of sycamore seed pods.
Go to What Tree Is It? to identify trees you encounter, by leaf shape, fruit or name.