My grandfather died in 1985, my grandmother in 2002. Both were buried at the base of this tree, under which I have sat on many an afternoon on my way home. In the small world that is my life, I pass the cemetery daily, visit from my car as I slow and turn my head toward the graves. And if the weather suits, or I've had a particularly rough day, or feel the need for some peace and solitude, I make the trip into the cemetery and sit. That's become a little more difficult lately, as the boy doesn't have much patience for it. Reverence, yes, but not patience.
Those trips gained much more significance when Edna died in 2009, and when she was joined there by Uncle Bob the next year. Trips into the cemetery became more frequent, more like a family reunion, a trip through time. A granite bench was added by my aunt, a loving gesture, and one that allowed me to skip over planting myself on the ground in my work clothes. It was placed at the foot of the tree, with all of the family in sight, also allowing for the eventuality that some of us will someday be joining them in the family plot.
Through it all, that tree, a sycamore I think, has stood, strong and tall and ancient. It has always been the most beautiful spot in the cemetery, where many of us in the church community played as children. A former student wrote to me that her husband, also a former student, used to climb the tree with his brothers when they were young, so I know the tree has more significance than to just my family. But I don't know that any other families have stood together crying and comforting each other at the base of it as many times as ours has. And for that reason, I always thought of it as ours. Another friend commented to me that maybe parts of my family members had nourished the tree, and while that sounds morbid, and I think he was mostly kidding and trying to make me laugh when I was upset, there is something to it.
So, the urge to run and protect it, climb into it, was strong when I heard the chainsaw from the school parking lot on Tuesday afternoon. My sister had texted me, crying, because she had seen already. She urged me to not go home, to take a different route so I wouldn't have to see. So, I did the opposite and went straight there...how could I not? I drove through the wrought-iron gate feeling nauseous, knowing what it looked like from a distance, but knowing that it would be worse up close. And it was.
The guys working for the tree service eyed me oddly when I jumped out of the car and approached. I was already crying, and had phone in hand ready to take pictures. Maybe they thought I was going to yell at them or something. I tried not to make too much eye contact at that point, wishing that they weren't there so I could sit and cry in peace. Just before I left, I had a thought...in fact, I had already gotten back into the car and turned it around to leave while my son eyed me carefully from the back seat. I put the car in park, hopped out again, and this time, approached the guy who looked like he might be in charge. At this point, I was sobbing, which only got worse as I tried to explain to him that my grandparents, my uncle, my mom...were all down there. And I asked him for a piece of the tree. (Well, I asked him for a piece of that, thank goodness he didn't misconstrue.) He was very kind, suggesting that maybe I have their names inscribed on it somehow, and picking it up and putting it in the back of my car, even though I easily could have carried it. (Damsel in distress, I suppose. The tree is dead, but chivalry isn't.)
For now, the pile of tree remains. My piece is safe and secure, and waiting for me to decide what to do with it. An inscribed wall-hanging, as Mr. Chivalry suggested? A table top? Or simply a memento? That remains to be seen. But at least I can guard it, my family tree.