Summer in the Tree
by Haley Hutchinson
I remember going to my aunt’s for the first time. She and her family had already moved most of their belongings from Ohio to Pennsylvania, and this car ride was bringing them and their pillows. We sat illegally in the dark green minivan, under what seemed like a mountain of clothes and blankets. In fact, I can clearly remember my cousin Jamie sitting on top of this huge pile of stuff, and she seemed so far away, up higher than I could ever imagine being. But now, I realize how she couldn’t have been as high as I had thought as a child, as the van wasn’t that big. I wonder if every childhood memory I have is that exaggerated.
As we got closer to the new house, my cousins and I tried to guess which one was theirs. It ended up being a beautiful home across the street from a cornfield that went on for miles. The pillars to the porch were brick, as was the rest of the house, aside from the asphalt that was falling off of the roof.
“Jay,” my aunt Tina said to her husband. “The house is a wreck. The roof is falling apart, the supposed white siding is turning tan, and the grass is as tall as my knees. On top of it, it’s next to a farm. It’s going to smell like manure,” She complained. My four cousins and I looked at each other in shock.
“Mom!” Alyssa yelled. “It’ll be fine! Stop worrying,” she said. She played the the ends of her curly brown hair as she spoke, seemingly nonchalant. My aunt brushed off her seven year old daughter, and continued to argue in a hushed voice with my uncle. The rest of my cousin’s and I agreed Alyssa, and it wasn’t just because she was the oldest of the five of us. This house was perfect. There were large tiger lilies growing along the right side of the house, and a beautiful oak tree on the front lawn. Wild flowers grew in the rain gutters, and there was a small pumpkin patch in the back lawn. We used the door into the kitchen as a front door, though it led out back.
That back door was constantly swinging open and shut, as we traveled in and out of the house. Most of the time, we were outside, though we were hardly on our own property. The five of us found the abandoned house next door more interesting than our own house. It was a place of mystery. There were wooden planks on the porch missing, and what was there was rotting. The windows were dirty and broken, and the roof was bare. The back yard had a huge tree. It was another oak tree; it was much bigger than the one in our yard. It grew in two sections tapering off into a Y shape about three feet up. We called her Momma Tree, as she was strong and brave, as every mother should be, and cared for us through everything.
As dawn broke the night sky, we rushed outside. Barefoot, we ran across the dew covered grass, mud sinking between our toes, racing to the crab apple tree not far off of our property. The air was brisk, bringing out the peach in our otherwise slightly tanned summer skin. We climbed the tree, ignoring the splinters in our hands, making it a competition on who could get enough apples down first. I never won. The youngest of the five of us, Tina, collected the fallen apples, examining each one for bruises, keeping the good ones in a frayed Easter basket, and leaving the others on the ground. After gathering enough, we jumped down from different parts of the tree, and walked over to Momma Tree. By now, the sun was up more, the sky overall a shade of azure, with indigo and coral hues tangoing amongst the soft clouds.
Placing an old patchwork quilt at the base of Momma Tree, we had a large picnic of crab apples for breakfast. I leaned against Momma Tree, feeling her rough bark through my cotton shirt, as if she were leaning against me as well. We sat for hours, talking and breathing the fresh morning air, waiting to hear the clomping of the horse and buggies going to the market about a mile from us. We waved to the Amish children, quietly discussing how cute the boys our age were, giggling at their straw hats and plain clothing. I assume that they did the same for us, noting our unbrushed hair and the dirt under our fingernails. I pulled at the grass next to me, listening to my cousins argue about who their mom loves more, as the afternoon heat made its way upon us.
As the heat rose up from the tar in the street, we knew it was time for lunch. We scrambled into the house through the back door, begging my uncle to grill for us. He reluctantly agreed, not wanting to subject himself to the developing heat wave of that summer day. As he added charcoal to the barbeque, we rushed back over to the shady spot under Momma Tree, attempting to climb her. Jamie went first, using most of her upper body strength to pull herself onto one branch, and then another, and yet another. She swung like an ape in the wild, until reaching the highest, sturdy branch there was. I followed next, not going nearly as high, and didn’t go up as gracefully either. I laughed as pieces of bark fell off in my hand, and made sure not to squish any wandering caterpillars as I climbed. Alyssa, Nikki, and Tina climbed after me, and as we got comfortable, the smell of hotdogs and the burning charcoal caused our hunger to be unbearable, and we rushed to get down.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and it seemed like as I took a breath, the sun began to set. The sky resembled a melting creamsicle that would leave my hands sticky, and for a brief moment, I felt the sun would leave the moon sticky, as popsicles did my tiny fingers. The first lightning bugs began illuminating the lawn, and we rushed around, catching them in our hands, making wishes, and letting them go. I must have made thousands of wishes that summer. As we let the last lightning bug go, a crack of thunder hit, and we ran into the house.
We spent the night hidden under covers and eating popcorn as we watched our favorite musical, Mama Mia. That is, until the electricity went off. We screamed. My aunt rushed in the room, concerned for our yelling.
“Girls. It’s okay,” She told us. “The storm knocked a tree over, and messed up the power.”
“A tree?” I spoke up. “Was it Momma tree?”
“I don’t think so, Haley. That one isn’t near any powerlines. We’ll check the damage tomorrow. You girls need to get some sleep.” She kissed all of our heads and left the room.
The next day, we woke up later than we normally did, the sun was already completely risen. We all looked at each other, and raced outside, still in pajamas. We ignored the gravel that got stuck in our feet, and didn’t bother to move the hair that flew in our faces. All that mattered in that moment was that Momma Tree was okay. As we arrived to the abandoned house next door, everything looked okay. That was until we got closer, and saw that Momma Tree’s largest branch was hanging off. Brine filled tears streamed down our face like an ever flowing current, as we thought that this was the end to our beloved tree. That was when my aunt came, worried as to why her children and niece ran out of the house, without so much as saying a word.
“Girls. It’s okay. She wasn’t completely knocked down,” Aunt Tina told us.
“We need to have a proper funeral,” Nikki said, wiping the snot that fell from her nose.
“Nik, Momma tree isn’t dead. We just need to cut that one branch off. She’ll be okay,” She said, wiping the tears from each of our eyes before standing up. “Let’s get to work.”
All six of us pushed down on Momma Tree’s branch. It began splintering off, and and pushed and pulled and shaked the branch until snap. It broke clean. We all huddled around Momma Tree, hoping she would survive the risky amputation. I was the first at where the cut was made, and smiled at the sight. Her bark was fresh, though in the center was a lightning scar. It was shaped like a heart. I looked at my cousins, tears still clouding my green eyes, and smiled.
“She loves us too.”