In the summer of ’89, there was no shade on our block. All through the rest of our neighborhood, there were big trees snugged up close to the sidewalks. The shade from these old oaks, maples, and lindens invited and sheltered the walkers and joggers and stroller-pushing mamas. People waved, and maybe stopped and talked. I liked that. But walking on our shadeless block was pure misery. No shade meant few walkers, very little waving, and no visiting. I hated that, and I meant to do something about it.
I went to Flower Power nursery in Franklin and bought two half-price trees: a pin oak and a Yoshino cherry. The cherry tree was just a little 6-foot job. I could pick it up with one hand. The oak was a 16-footer. That’s not big, but a tree that size does come with a whopping-big root ball, which I figured weighed in at about 500 pounds. The nursery folks loaded it into my truck with a forklift.
As I looked at the root ball, I remembered one day a while back when I watched two redneck boys moving shop equipment out of a basement. They had ahold of a welding machine, which was about the size of a Volkswagen bug. As they lifted it, the one on the end closest to me puked projectile-style and dropped to the ground. “Ow! Damn!” he grunted as he curled up into a ball. “I think I pulled my nuts!”
I had great sympathy for the boy, but I was struck by how little he knew about anatomy. I thought, “You might have pulled a groin muscle, bubba. But you can’t pull your actual nuts. Most likely, you’ve just popped your intestines down into your scrotum.”
With that scene playing in my head, I called my friends Allen and Steve and asked if they could help me plant a tree. Good friends that they are, they walked up 10 minutes later carrying shovels and a pickax. As we put the tree in the ground, we talked about how these would be daughter Jess’ trees, and how we’d always measure her life by the growth of the trees. Jess was just 6 months old at the time.
Back in ’89, Brenda and I were alternating our work days, so one of us could always be home with Jess. Brenda worked three days a week on the hospital labor-and-delivery floor taking care of other peoples’ babies. I worked the other four days, inspecting houses and writing for magazine and book publishers. At the time, my big project was Chapter 6 of Rodale’s Book of Practical Formulas. (Didja know? Ketchup makes a fine brass polish.)
Because Brenda got up every morning at 5, and I got up whenever I felt like it, I tended to Jess at night. When she cried, I fed her and cleaned her and rocked her back to sleep. Sometimes while we were rocking, I’d look out the window and see the two little trees under the streetlight. It’ll be a long time, I thought, before those trees will give any useful shade.
When I was a little kid, I heard adults talk about time flying by. They talked about it when they reminisced about their babies being born and how quickly the babies had grown. Flying time sounded like an awful thing to me. I hoped my time would never fly.
Soon after we planted the trees, Jess crawled across the floor to me, stopped just to my left, and then and there, she stood up. She just stood right up, 2 feet tall, and acted like she’d been doing it her whole life. Jess stood up, and time stood still. I sat there transfixed. I couldn’t tell you if she stood up for two seconds or two hours. Eventually, her little legs started to quiver, and she sat down. Since that moment, Jess and time have both been hauling ass.
As it turns out, I’ve found one huge benefit to flying time: I can’t stay mad as long as I could before. Twenty years ago, I could stay mad for maybe three or four days. Now I can’t even stay mad overnight.
The bad news is, a friend can leave a message on my answering machine, and it might take me two weeks to call back. I swear, it seems like it was two hours. I’ve got to try to do better.
This summer there is deep and abundant shade on the sidewalk in front of the Jowers house. If I had to plant another 500-pound tree, I’d still call Allen and Steve to help, and they’d still show up to do the job. Daughter Jess is closing in on 5 feet tall, and she’s wearing Brenda’s funky platform shoes from 1973. The last 10 years at our house have gone by fast, but they’ve been good. If we can all gather here again 10 years from now, I’ll let y’all know how Jess is doing in college.
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