EDITOR’S CAVEAT: The author is working on this and offers no apologies.
In an episode of Leave It To Beaver, young and pretty Miss Landers has the class learn a poem entitled, “What Does He Plant Who Plants a Tree?” by Henry Cuyler Bunner. After thinking about the poem, Beaver uproots a tree at his previous address, and transplants it in his new back yard. The poem is touching, even as read by her pupils without emotion. Then Miss Landers brings the words to life, as she recites the poem to patriotic music that reaches a cresciendo. Here is the poem:
The Heart of A Tree
Henry Cuyler Bunner
What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants cool shade and tender rain
the seed and bud of days to be
in years that fade and flush again.
He plants to glory of the plain
he plants to forest heritage
the harvest of the coming idea
the joy that unborn eyes shall see
these things he plants
who plants a tree.
What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants in sap and leaf and wood
in love of home and loyalty
and far cast thought of civic good
God’s blessing on the neighborhood
who in the hollow of His hand
holds all the growth of all our land
a nation’s growth from sea to sea
stirs in his heart who plants a tree.”
I took a trip to my favorite vacation destination: Google Earth, where I checked up on the eight trees I planted over the course of my life. The first, I planted in Aurora, Colorado, three doors down from my parents’ house. Well, really, it was Mother’s house. Dad was just allowed to make the payments. When I noticed, three doors down, there was never a man around, I rang the doorbell.
“Hello. My name is Alan Mayer. I was wondering if I might mow your lawn for you.”
“That’s a wonderful idea” said the pretty woman at the door. “How much do you charge?”
I have no idea how the rest of the conversation went, what I do know is the pretty former flight attendant at the door, Marion Terrant, set me on track to becoming CEO of my own little lawn care business. I took the trash cans out after school on Tuesday, and brought them back in on my way home on Wednesday. The more I did for Mrs. Terrant, the more she rewarded me, with cash, of course. My relationship with Mrs. Terrant lasted several years, during which time she must have raved to her neighbors about “the little Mayer boy up the street”. The following summer, I had three clients, and by the time I entered junior high school I had a cool watch, a slick wardrobe, and four hundred dollars in the bank,
working for me, under Dad’s supervision.
“Save, save, save” was Mummy’s mantra that prompted me to do. Mummy spoke, and I listened, (or paid the consequences). Today Mummy has a million dollars in the bank and zero debt. Still she cries, over a million times, “No money. Gotta save.”
I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I never thought of gardening as work. I was happy to have a daily excuse to get away from mother’s grasp. By my senior year of high school, (after a year in foster homes in Europe just to screw me up for life) earning my own income became a pattern I would use to talk myself out of playing Miss Hayes’ Prince Valiant in her production of Camelot. Over and again, she begged me to play Prince Valient, but my one junior high school experience playing the grandfather in Miss Vermillion’s production of
Papa’s Dying, — Who’s Got the Will?
in which I cracked up on stage, left me terrified of live audiences. Over and again, I refused Miss Hayes, stating I had to work, and “save, save, save”. I had a car to insure. Tires to buy. Lose my ability to get out of the home? Are you kidding me? Never!
Had I not been so busy working through junior and high school, and adjusting to new foster homes, I could have gone out for track, or gymnastics. My mother was a gymnast. Why could I not be one? Because I am not Mummy. How much fun might that have led to? I did not think I had any talent for acting, writing, or anything else, really, except drawing and building Lego houses. No one ever said, “send the kid to do an apprecticeship with an architectural firm”. No one ever asked me
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As a result, I never did grow up. Looking back, working had allowed me to live out the expensive taste I saw my mother had, but unless it was for her, her daughter, or the family (her), in her opinion, boys don’t need luxuries as do girls. I already had a fast car, insurance to pay, — and several speeding tickets. No matter how I fought, no one would take responsibility for lowering the speed limit to 55, two months before I got my license.
That is another awkward post entitled The Night I Spent in Georgetown Jail, yet to be posted.
I was a happy little co-dependent boy who spent his time looking for ways to please others, so they would love me. It never worked in the Home, so I took my smiling face to Mrs. Terrant’s yard, and spent hours digging in her garden, planting iris and delphiniums my mother had uprooted from our yard, never quite understanding I was digging for God.
Marion Terrant appreciated everything I did for her. It pleased me to please her. I spent hours digging in her garden, serving God without knowing what I was doing (we were pagans). I planted iris and philadendrons my mother had uprooted, and transplanted them in Mrs. Terrant’s garden. I loved her garden like it was my own, and the more time I invested, the bigger the reward. And it was safe. She was a widow, so I didn’t have to worry about competition. I often wondered how widowhood during her pregnancy must have affected her daughter, Lisa Dale Terrant.
For more than three years, Marion Terrant tipped me well for my lawn care services, and for early morning delivery of the Rocky Mountain News, both services I performed for more than three years without missing a day. At the time, a fifth of my life. Here’s a memory: burning trash at the incinerator, placed at the end of a sidewalk in the middle of the yard, leading to it. I moved the incinerator to the far corner, removed the sidewalk with a sledgehammer (with Mother’s permission) set the pieces in the trash bins for the next few weeks, and sodded the lawn seamlessly.
I loved burning trash, something about everything going into the ether,
until two years later, in 1968, burning trash was outlawed, and the incinerator found its way to join the sidewalk. I had three paying clients, and one who traded in food and shelter whose yard I mowed, planted trees and bushes in, took trashcans in and out of, and whose walks I shoveled when Dad didn’t get there first. As boy of twelve, having just peaked five feet, I had no way to predict the growth these trees would take. When I returned, thirty years later, the Colorado Blue Spruce had taken over the entire corner.
Mummy taught me never to plant common pine.
I have monitored others over the years. The whole street of the first home I ever held a financial interest in was improved upon when maple trees were planted along what, during my stewardship there, had been a two lane road, now a six lane highway, in the effort to cut traffic noise. Four blocks of townhouses are now shielded by a six foot wooden fence and a long row of trees.
Pokey would like me to address the personal relationship between trees and dogs; in separate post, to follow. Meanwhile, a mouse I know asked me to stress the importance of trees to the rodent community.
Here is a comfortable looking tree house that caught my eye:
Back at Mummy’s the Home, the two evergreen trees, and all eight bushes en face de la maison have ceased to be ever green. The house sits bare, brick exposed, looking naked and unloved. In my time, the house was never unloved. If walls could speak.
It was the most beautiful house on the block, the one with the bigoted drapes.
That’s the house. There’s the fence I moved thirty feet to enclose the bedroom windows. Every three years I painted it, along with Mummy’s house. I’m sure she paid me. Somehow. I used the fence’s new position as my ladder to get in and out of my upstairs window. Once I went pool hopping with my new friends (I’d never been allowed to have any, we moved every year), and left when they started throwing the benches into the pool. I left, five minutes later, the police arrived, and called all the parents from the station.
My mother was spared that embarrassment. I was sensible enough to know the fun had turned to senseless destruction. I climbed into my bedroom window to find Mummy sitting on my bed, smoking a cigarette. She never smoked her own, only a puff here and there from others’. She was smoking mad, but recovered to dance with me at her friend’s New Year’s Eve party, 1968.
That’s the house. Late at night, when the bed springs stopped squeaking, I stole some of Mummy’s Benson & Hodges (as she called them, always twenty or more in the cigarette box on the living room table) and I smoked her cigarettes, with a desk fan on. Not wanting to open the door, I tossed the butts out the window, not realizing Mummy would be digging up the dirt there a month later. That’s the spot, behind those evergreen bushes, the ones that no longer exist.
It’s a trilevel. Those are the bathroom windows; same size as the bedroom windows, only single. Hidden behind the bushes, inside behind locked door, behind shutters I helped my father paint and install, in the only privacy to be found in the house, I discovered my sexuality, as CEO of my own little lawn maintenance company. I had guts then, before it was beaten out of me.
Lord, grant me serenity…and while you’re at it, let me remember the twelve steps to freedom.
Going back is not the best thing to do, but I was born a masochist, with an erection and the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. How do I know this? I practiced rebirthing during the 1980’s and was given a series of questions to ask my mother about my birth. She refused to speak. It was only through questioning my father I learned much, much more, I wish I hadn’t.
Delivering the Rocky Mountain News in all kinds of weather was an escape from the Home. Among my favorite memories are days riding my bicycle down snowladen streets, trying to land the paper on the porch. And there were the few times my father would join me at the round breakfast room table, help me fold papers, even drive me down the streets with me in the trunk, tossing papers.
My mornings to myself, in the dark, with no traffic, the silence at the kitchen table while the rest of (Mummy’s) family slept, were priceless to me, and taught me a great deal about responsibility. Not that I hadn’t been taught that by my seventy-four year old father. Gardening, serving people gave me great joy, yet all the while, I was failing math, science, P.E., and crying into my pillow every night, saying to myself, “I wish I were dead”, as I listened to my parents argue over how to raise a boy. In gym, out of our class of sixty, I was among the last six chosen for a team. I was taller than average, even more developed than many of the other boys, but I had been skiing since I was five, and just two years earlier had learned how to swim, and took an interest in a diving. I knew nothing about football, basketball, baseball. I still don’t. Except baseball.
No one had ever tossed a ball to me. When I said ball, they understood doll.
That first summer in Mummy’s house on Troy Street, the one with the vaulted ceiling and all the trees, I got to play Kick the Can with neighbor kids my age. That winter we built snow forts, and tossed snow balls at each other. The old neighborhood has changed. The house now stands exposed, naked with the bushes and evergreen trees gone. But the Maple I planted in 1973 to honor my step-grandmother stood sixty feet tall when I last saw it, and the homphobic drapes are gone.
Thanks to trees.
There is one life.
This life is God.
This life is perfect.
This life is my life now.
I shed the chains that bind me to my past. I work the steps.
I ask God to grant me the serenity to
accept the people and things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
May my trees always be there to provide me air to breathe.
“Step on up, take a deep breath, climb me” they say,
“Nestle in my leaves.
Stick to my sap,
gnash your fingernails into my bark,
and as you do, let go all your cares and woes.
Believe in me.
I am your tree.”
I accept, Pokey thanks all the trees he has loved, and the fire department for all the hydrants.
I give thanks to all trees.
I give thanks to he who ever planted a tree.
If not for he, I would have had nothing to water or climb as a child,
breathing would not be such an easy task.
I release right thought, right word, right action,
and know, my word is divine cause.
I give thanks for all my blessings, at the top of the list, my throne.
I let it go.
And so it is.
Now click “Like”, “Share”, and go plant a tree.