Dad’s Trees

I wrote this 6 years ago (when I was still married) but thought I would share again.  Now that Dad is gone, it has even deeper meaning.

Every year on my father’s Birthday, August 23, we plant a tree in our yard, as per his request. This year he is 79 years old. “I’ve got everything I could possibly need,” he says, “I don’t want for a thing–just plant a tree.”

Darn trees. 

Many times in the past, on his Birthday, I’ve tried to forgo the tree planting ritual and try to take the easy way out–a Reebok Jacket or a pair of Rockport shoes. Ultimately, however, regardless of the gifts, guilt takes over and I plant the blasted tree at 11:00 at night–out in the dark, with a flashlight. 

When I was first married, I must admit, I’ve grabbed whatever poor little “Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” was on sale and reluctantly plopped it down in the dirt somewhere, clapping my hands together and mumbling something like, “Gee, I hoped I haven’t killed it.” 

You see, planting Dad’s birthday tree is not an easy thing. First of all, it’s usually hot, and the gardening tools are somewhere… somewhere … somewhere. Planting a tree is not as easy as sticking a tie in a birthday bag. First you have to figure out what kind of tree you want–not just any old pine tree you know, it’s gotta be something with character–something that will grow with dignity and majesty–something that people will slow down their cars for–as they drive by, mouths agape….mumbling “L o o k a t t h a t t r e e……” 

Once you’ve chosen the most respectable tree at the nursery, noticing that the price tag inevitably reflects your good taste, you have to make sure it will actually grow in Georgia. Too hot for Blue Spruces and too cold for Palms, you settle for a tree no one has ever heard of — except the 16 year old democrat with the pierced everything that sold it to you. Not wanting to seem “un-cool”, you jokingly ask, “Are you sure this is a tree, dude?” And, if you take that little plastic tab off, you’ll never be able to identify it again. As far as you know, it came from the rain forest of a country whose name you can’t pronounce, and whose capitol has never been an answer on jeopardy — because it has too many vowels. 

Well, it’s time to dig–the torture begins. Of course, there’s that shovel, behind the refrigerator that doesn’t work, that your husband said he was going to fix every year since 1981. We still have to keep the broken refrigerator, because otherwise where would we put the shovel? 

I usually stand on the shovel and ride it around like a pogo-stick hoping it will find a soft spot on its own. Once ground is broken, I can continue until I hit something like a root or a telephone wire. My husband, 6’ 4”, 250 lbs, helps out by standing over the hole with his arms at his sides like one of those silver-back mountain gorillas, and staring–like maybe oil will come spurting out if I just follow his explicit digging instructions.

I don’t know how a man that big and strong can stand so still when I’m obviously doing it all wrong. How badly do I have to perform this task before he yanks the shovel out of my hand and says, “Here, let me…”? It works when I try to drive him somewhere…every time. 

The hole is never big enough. What the hell is going on? Is the dirt caving in faster than you can dig the hole? After you lift the tree in and out of the hole several times–you realize you will never get that hole big enough or wide enough–in disgust you just decide to dig a crater size hole before you check it for the seventh time…I’ll show you–you stupid dirt.

The hole is too big. The tree looks like its being buried instead of planted. Feeling sorry for the tree, you try to put some dirt back in the hole, but somehow the dirt has literally melted into the grass and you can’t get it out unless you get the vacuum. When you use the vacuum on the lawn, people look at you funny. Somehow you scrape enough dirt back into the hole, drop the root ball in, and finally the tree looks good, short–but good. My husband kneels down ever so slowly and pats the dirt a couple of times. 

Dad always says, “Never let a plant know it’s been transplanted, be gentle and water it well.” Whoops–My tree has been tied to the roof, drug across the driveway, turned on its side and rolled until the plastic tub came off, and yanked out of an insufficiently sized hole half a dozen times–I think it suspects something. By this time, I’m too tired to fetch the hose, so I just pour my $2.50 bottled water on it, somehow hoping the expensive liquid will calm its nerves. 

My husband is still staring, but now he has his hands in his pockets, because he really thinks we planted the tree together. Thank God he was there for those two pats–otherwise I don’t know if that tree will know its okay to grow here. 

But it does, and it will, and they have—we’ve been in this house 11 years, and 10 beautiful trees (minus the one we lost one to a winter storm) stand in our yard to be counted as Dad’s Birthday trees – with dignity and majesty. 

This one is my favorite; you should see it in the Spring. I always look out my kitchen window and say, 

“L o o k a t t h a t t r e e……”

Thanks, Dad.  It really was a great idea… now, every time I look at the trees, I’ll think of you.

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