By Lisa Sugarman
As I sat in my kitchen last weekend, early in the morning, sipping my tea and watching the last of the leaves from our big red maple float to the ground in the backyard, something profound dawned on me. I realized, as I was staring up at quite possibly the most perfect climbing tree in the history of trees, that what I was looking at was so much more than just an ordinary climbing tree.
I realized, as I stared at its perfectly juxtaposed branches, that in addition to being a flawless specimen as far as trees go, it was also a pseudo amusement park for my kids and every other neighborhood kid within a three-block radius. And that’s when it occurred to me that the tree symbolized something way bigger than just a place to hang out. It was an icon. More specifically, an icon of their youth—something that had become sacred to all of them. And it always would be.
Ironic that we never really paid much attention to the tree when we moved into the house ten-plus years ago. At that point, our girls were still little and the tree was just the big, beautiful centerpiece of our yard. In fact, it took a friend—the father of three boys—to see its potential and sneak away from a family barbecue to christen the tree with its first bonafide climber.
As soon as he pulled himself up onto the first set of low-hanging branches, that was it. Life in my backyard was never the same. And it was amazing to witness that moment of inception, when all the kids simultaneously turned and looked for Al, only to find him three stories above our house, straddling one of the thick anchor branches and grinning down over all of us.
Needless to say, it took about six seconds for every kid and all of us parents to shimmy up the tree and hosie our own branches. And we’ve all “owned” the same branches ever since. Almost like chairs around a kitchen table that each belong to someone specific in your family. And believe me when I tell you, you did not sit on Korey’s branch if you were Libby, or on Jesse’s branch if you were Riley. You just didn’t. Just like you don’t sit in Dave’s chair if you’re me. That’s because people are territorial.
Well Dave eventually built ladder rungs going up the side of the tree, and once he did that it was like an open invitation for every kid on the block to spend their free time supervising all neighborhood activities and solving all the middle school problems of the world.
What would’ve been interesting, in hindsight, is if I had somehow kept track of how many hours the kids spent up in the tree over the years. Or, better still, if I could’ve somehow wire-tapped the branches to hear the conversations that took place on those Indian summer mornings in March when the kids would throw on snow boots and shorts and drink their hot chocolate hovering above the grass.
The point I’m making is that we all have very specific icons of our youth that symbolize different times in our lives. Whether it’s a pond you used to skate on or a tree you used to climb or a shed you used as a fort, we all have some icon from our past that symbolizes a particular time and place and point in our lives that we remember fondly. Or at least the kind that I’m talking about are the kind we remember warm-heartedly.
For me, ironically enough, the icon of my youth was a tree just like the one my kids have grown up with in our yard. It lived across the street in my neighbor Paul’s yard and was populated daily by almost as many kids as our tree is now.
And the memories I have of that tree are truly beautiful ones. They’re of laughter and silliness and bonding and adventure. And although the only specific memory I have about my time in Paul’s tree was the day I sliced my middle finger open with a Swiss army knife carving my initials in my branch, the vibe I have in my heart from all the time I spent perched in those branches is priceless.
The neat thing is, we all have some kind of an icon from our past—something that conjures up fond memories from another time—that has the amazing power to shoot us back to a time when silly little things like a tree or a pond seemed even more exciting than Disneyland.
I wonder, do you remember yours?
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.