MY FRIENDS arrived at the kitchen door carrying a tree. My wedding day was a week away, and they thought we all ought to mark this occasion by planting a tree.
Mr. Friend thought I ought to know the genus and species of the thing; I demurred, and said all I cared about was whether or not it was known to attract any sort of large, unattractive insectoid life form. Mrs. Friend assured me that it would not, so the generic tree was fine by me.
“It will get bigger,” Mr. Friend informed me of the three-foot-high stick. “In the way that all trees do.” People wax philosophical when planting life forms likely to outlive all of us combined.
We walked around the yard for a good half hour, lugging the treelet in a pot behind us. Where did it want to live, this tree? Over here by the garage, where it might grow to shade the comings and goings from the grocery store? No, no, no, said my fiancée. Who wants to rake leaves up off the driveway in the fall. I beamed at his husbandly aspirations. Well, then, how about smack in the center of the lawn, where it might aspire to one day hold up a tire swing? Except that by the time the tree got large enough to life such weight, the children would be grown and gone, said Mrs. Friend. Good point—so maybe alongside the house, where it might shelter a bench? Mr. Friend shook his head no. Trees drop gunk into gutters and we don’t want that. We all agreed, solemnly shaking our heads and staring at the tree as if it were an uninvited guest at a dinner party.
My husband-to-be kicked and pushed the bucket-o’-tree over to the fence, a sadly leaning, aging faux redwood thing that was 20 years old if it was a day. “This fence is coming down anyway,” he said, echoing a plan he’d been making out loud for half a year. Fair enough, the friends decided. A few feet out from the edge of the drooping fence, the hole was dug, filled with peat and watered from the hose, and the tree was tucked in for the night.
Two years later, the fence was still sagging in place, and the tree was beginning to annoy it’s deadwood neighbor. My husband meant to get to that fence, but there was this thing and then that thing and pretty soon, the tree was as tall as the fence and then peeking over the top of the fence and then shadowing the fence and then giving the fence a gentle, slow motion shove.
“That tree is nagging me,” said my husband.
“Then I don’t need to,” I rejoiced.
“It bothers me,” he said.
“Apparently, not enough,” I said.
A year went by. It was not our favorite tree. It was a spindly thing, failing to thrive because it sensed we were not fond of it. It suspected it was adopted, stuck in next to the fence like an afterthought. It rustled its few leaves jealously at the other, more favored trees, the ones that got impatiens planted at their feet and mulch strewn around their roots.
I caught my husband gazing out the window one summer’s day. “Maybe the fence will fall over all by itself,” he said, wistfully.
“And then the squirrels and rabbits will carry the wood away?” I asked.
“Why not? They did in Snow White,” he said.
Another year went by.
“It is not, you realize, a porta-tree,” I told my husband. “It can’t move by itself.”
“Why not? The trees in Wizard of Oz did,” he said. That possibility gave the kids nightmares for a week.
Soon, children outgrew bedrooms. We outgrew the house. The tree grew and grew, too. We called a realtor, who brought a pair of newlyweds by with stars in their eyes.
They loved the house and headed out to the backyard to pace off the boundaries of the property and check out the bird bath and the stone walking path.
The realtor waved cheerily to them, stayed behind, and whirled on his heel in a worried fury. “What idiot planted that tree there?” he asked my five-year-old son, as though he was usually responsible for major landscaping decisions. “I mean, you have to work to plant a tree! You can’t just toss in a tree without noticing, for instance, that it’s going to grow into things and knock things over and be…just…entirely…in the wrong spot!” The kid just shrugged. His father’s son.
The newlyweds oohed and aahed over the peonies, the rose bushes, the porcelain vine. Then they saw it. The new groom wrapped his arms around the trunk. “One of these grew in my yard when I was a kid,” he grinned. “I love these!”
He never even saw the fence for the tree.