When I was a child, around the age of 5, my mama’s brother went to fight in Vietnam. He was a career military man who served on helicopters that dropped into the jungles and picked up the badly wounded and dead. It scarred his heart forever.
His heart was also scarred by what was happening back home. He had left behind two children, whose mother had left them behind when she went back to her homeland of Germany and never returned. My aunt Ozelle took in the beautiful young girl and the absolutely adorable son, Mike, the same age as me, came to live with us.
While my uncle’s life was miserable during that tour of duty, Mike and I were having quite a fine time back home in Georgia. We put up an Army regulation, drab green tent that Mike’s daddy had bought for us at the commissary and camped out nights, eating Army food from green cans. We climbed trees, picked blackberries and explored every nook and cranny of the creek and we fished.
There was a stream running through the pasture that burbled its way to emptying into the creek. Because we had seen tadpoles, Mike and I figured that we could catch fish there, too. We were only 5, remember. We made fishing poles out of sticks, attached string and fashioned hooks from safety pins. It’s safe to say that Mama helped us figure out this engineering.
For hours, my best buddy and I sat on the embankment of that brook and waited for the big fish we were certain we’d catch. Under a tree that shaded us from the summer’s sun, we whiled away our time. Later, I bought that land and built a house, positioning it where I could see that stream and that tree, so dear to my childhood, from the front porch. Often, I’d pull into the drive and look over at that stream and tree and think of Mike.
It may sound silly but for 12 years, I prayed over the three trees that gave character to that stream. “Please, Lord,” I’d pray often, “don’t let me outlive those trees.”
In the past several years, ice storms and drought have taken dozens of trees from the property where Tink and I live. My heart begged the Lord to leave those three trees. I couldn’t bear the thought of life without them. Silly, perhaps. But the heart loves what it loves.
One morning, I walked out on the back porch and heard a chain saw. Tink had hired someone to do some cleaning up in the pasture. I walked around the front of the house to look. My heart exploded with grief and fear. A man with a chain saw was cutting down the tree under which my greatest fishing expeditions happened.
Barefooted, I ran across the frost-covered grass, paid no mind to the sticky sweet gum balls that pricked my feet and I yelled. But he could not hear. By the time, I climbed the pasture fence and got his attention, one half of the tree was gone. It was a double-trunked tree.
“Why?” I cried out.
“Well, a limb was dead and it was blocking your view.”
There are no words. I came back to the house and I cried with the greatest of sorrow. And because I cried so pitifully, Tink cried. He knows what trees mean to me. Especially those three.
I cried because the tree that brought forth such sweet childhood memories lay in a heap with wonderful green leaves flowering its limbs. “Worry not over what money and hard work can replace,” Daddy said often. Nothing could ever replace that tree.
After a morning of heartbreak, I finally stopped crying. “Well,” I said. “It wasn’t Jesus’ will.”
I never thought it would be a man and a chain saw who took it down. I only prayed for protection from nature. Lesson learned.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.