The honey locust tree in the back yard of the house my parents lived in when I was born in was enormous. The back yard was expansive, for a suburban mid-century ranch, and the honey locust towered in the center, spreading its fronds wide and more than 30 feet into the air, so that all but the edges of the long, grassy stretch was touched by its dense, remarkably cool shade, over the course of the day.
Most of the branches were eight or more feet off the ground, but a welcoming fork a little more than five feet off the ground let you swing your feet up into the tree, and you could ascend 15 or 20 feet into the air on good solid branches. From the lowest north-facing sturdy branch, my dad hung a truck tire from a yellow rope, upon our return to the neighborhood when I was nine. I could climb into the center of the tire and swing, or sit or stand atop it. When I had enough of the swing, I could sit on the branch from which the swing hung or the branches above it for hours with a book or an apple, leaned against the nubby bark of the upper trunk or stretched out along smooth, shiny taupe of the branch.
When I’d finally descend from the breezy embrace of the canopy, I’d lay in the shade of the cool grass beneath it. The stretch between the tree and the house was lush and soft and uniformly green. Probably because it was denied the shadow of the house in the morning, the stretch west of the tree, between the house and the fence, was always drier, browner, and pointier.To lay comfortably on that side of the tree, you’d need a blanket beneath you, but the whole yard was level and perfect for passing a summer day.
Staring up, the light was dappled, though the tree’s leaves were dense enough to keep you in total shade. Like the aspens in the foothills just west of us, the breezes made each leaf of the foliage dance independently, and the tree was alive with squirrels and busy magpies, robins, and insects. At the edges of the tree, you could watch the clouds. In the fall, the leaves would turn golden and the long, flat pods filled with seeds that the tree would issue would turn rich, chocolatey brown and rattle when the wind stirred them.
There are pictures of my grandparents and several of my nieces and nephews as babies beneath that tree. My childhood best friend and I turned endless cartwheels in the yard and collapsed exhausted beneath it. Pictures from my first prom were taken beneath it, and I remember racing home and darting up into its branches as part of a practical joke I played on some friends one day while we all suffered from a particularly bad case of senioritis.
I came home from a trip to France and Spain with my French class, the summer after I graduated from high school, to a For Sale sign on the front lawn of the house. And as they knew I would, I sobbed at the thought of my parents selling it. Though I had lived on a military base in preschool and early in elementary school, while my father was stationed somewhere else, this house was home in the way that nowhere else ever was, or really has been until I bought my own home, seven summers ago. Fortunately for me, I got a last summer beneath my tree. By my first college spring break, the house had been sold.
There was a lot that I’d miss. A lot of childhood memories, a lot of family stories of when my parents and older siblings lived in the house while I was a baby, neighbors I’d known for my entire life. But truly, my home [just outside the home] was in that big tree in the back.
I don’t live far from where I grew up—not the usual story for a military brat, but it’s how my life has gone, so far. And some days, I drive by our old house on my way to somewhere else. I never fail to look in at my tree. A tree that wonderful has probably had many people who appreciated it. But it makes me sad to think that no one has ever come to know it the way I did, or love it so well.