My mother died a few days before the start of my sophomore year of high school. I still grieve her loss and the experiences we never had together. We had just started to forge a more adult relationship when she got sick. We shared books from the library, and she invited me to meet her for lunch sometimes during summer break. Those were rare treats, and I cherished each occasion. I had no idea that they wouldn’t continue.
I was the fourth of five children. It wasn’t often that any of us kids got one-on-one action with either parent. Besides those summer lunches, I only had a handful of experiences that involved just me and Mom.
This is a story of one time I got into trouble with my mom. It seems weird to highlight a reprimand, I guess, but it speaks to the kind of person she was, always calm and sensible.
I was about 8 when I discovered the cherry tree in a neighbor’s back yard. I fell in love with this tree and believed it belonged to me, even though it was in the yard of a house that was vacant for long periods of time. Access meant trespassing.
The cherry tree was big and prolific. It seemed at least as tall as a two-story house. The best cherries were not accessible from the ground. You had to climb if you wanted them.
I wasn’t afraid. I’d been climbing large trees for years. I spent a lot of time in the cherry tree, eating all the cherries I could steal from the birds. These were sour cherries, meant for making pies. They were incredibly sweet, the way only a naturally sour fruit can be. They were plump and juicy, and I enjoyed spitting out the pits.
I felt remarkably safe in the cherry tree, and not at all lonely. I enjoyed looking up at the sunny, blue sky with cottony clouds scudding by on the wind.
I was proud I had climbed to the very top; however, I wasn’t so proud of stealing cherries and didn’t announce to the world what I was doing.
One day I came home from somewhere, and Mom met me at the door. I may have been in the tree, but I don’t remember. What I remember is Mom looking at me sternly. She told me, in remarkably few words, that she knew I was climbing the cherry tree and that I was to stop doing that.
She wasn’t noticeably angry and didn’t yell. Something about her calm recitation of the facts made a huge impression. She knew what I’d been doing. There wasn’t anything I could say in my defense.
What I did say was: “How did you know?”
She replied with what I now know to be a standard Mom phrase: “I’ve got eyes in the back of my head.”
I was shocked, and thought about that for a while. I was still too young to realize, Mom was probably told by a neighbor or saw me from our kitchen window. I believed she had some extra sense, and knew things that others did not.
I’m fairly certain I never climbed the tree again.
I recently moved to Washington, and I’ve been landscaping my yard. There are pink and white peonies and wild, rambling roses — Mom’s favorites. And I have my own, first-ever, cherry tree in my small back yard. It is a dwarf variety with sour, pie-making fruit and will never be as big as my childhood cherry tree.
But this new cherry tree brings back sweet memories of Mom.
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