“I knew that one’s life, one’s spanning of years and places, could never be of a piece, but rather were like scattered fragments of old glass.” ~ Willie Morris, North Toward Home
Tonight the wind gusts for a few minutes at a time and then all is calm…leaves flying and falling like rain in the light of the street lamp. At this point most of the trees have shed their leaves — except the sweet gum. It’s full of yellow, red, green, orange, purplish, and multicolored stars, and they come in all sizes, from tiny to enormous. This is one of my favorite trees, most of the time.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the sweet gum for years. Although a tall, lovely tree in spring and summer, the sticky, prickly seed balls it produces every fall can be a…challenge. They turn brown in autumn and drop by the hundreds, if not thousands, all winter and into the spring. They’ve been the source of turned ankles and near falls, and they pile up inside the little ditch that hides the wipers on the car. I wish the squirrels or the chipmunks or the birds would eat them.
My first swing when I was a kid was a rope tied to the sweet gum tree in our yard. My uncle fashioned a plank seat from a stray board, cut out notches to slip the rope through, and I raced up and off to exotic lands in that swing. I watched contrails of airplanes cut across the sky through its branches and wished I could fly. My more immediate — and attainable — goal, however, was to swing high enough to touch the closest branches with my toes.
When my son was little we lived on a street with a sweet gum tree and in the fall he loaded his red wagon with those sticky, prickly seed balls. He called them bunky-bunks. So the sweet gum tree became the bunky-bunk tree. A few years later we moved to a new neighborhood and the house we chose was the one with the bunky-bunk tree. At the moment I’m enjoying our tree of many colors, but it’s hard to stay focused on the positive when I know those horrid little balls are getting ready to drop.
Growing up in Kentucky, I was apprehensive this time of year about other things. One thought clung to the back of my mind as I went off to school and band practice and biking to my friends’ houses — doomsday was fast approaching for the pig population. Hogs were killed Thanksgiving week and the sausage ground and hams cured and side bacon salted down. Overnight my summer playhouse became a smokehouse again, a place to hold the meat during the winter months. It was hard work and a lot of emotion was expended, especially by those of us who had spent the last several months on a first-name basis with the pork.
Life is different these days. In matters of pork, it’s merely deciding whether to buy the sugar-cured, the honey-baked, or the old-fashioned country salted-to-death version. It’s the standing-in-line-to-pay the day before Thanksgiving that’s exhausting.