Our Family Tree

Our family tree in bloom always reminds me of the flowering pear tree passage in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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My husband and I bought our house the year we got married, and that same year we planted a tree in the front yard.  We chose a Yoshino Cherry Tree for its beautiful blossoms and called this our “family tree” because it marked the beginning of things.  That year we brought home a fluffball Bernese Mountain Dog puppy.  Huckleberry taught us what it was like to take care of something other than ourselves, just in time for our daughter who arrived the following year.  Three more years and two sons completed our family of five.

During these, um, fertile years, our family tree also flourished.  It not only established itself, but quickly shot upward and outward, growing several feet each year.  Its wide-reaching branches now grace a large area of our front yard, its trunk thick and scarred as if it has been there always.  My husband and I like to look out the window at our tree and reminisce about who we were when we planted it and how far we’ve come.  It is a symbol of the roots we have set down here and the splendid growth we have enjoyed.  Our early sapling marriage has become solid and sturdy, and the kids we’ve brought into the world have unearthed parts of ourselves we didn’t know were there.  They truly are extensions of us, and each new season brings laughter and lessons.

This time of year, when our family tree is in bloom, it is breathtaking.  What seems like millions of ever-so-subtly-pink-almost-white blossoms cover the branches like graceful garlands.  At night, it takes on a pure glow that makes the blooms look like bunches of popcorn floating above the ground.  The bees flock to it in all its glory.  And without fail, it reminds me of one of my favorite books.

I’ve written before about the nature imagery in Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora Neale Hurston’s ability to put her finger on the way that the natural world communicates with us is extraordinary.  In the beginning of the story, Janie is sixteen, and the world is waiting:

Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard.  She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days.  That was to say, ever since the first bloom opened.  It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery.  From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom.  It stirred her tremendously.  How?  Why?  It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again.  (Hurston 10)

Ahh, that last line!  When the earth comes alive again in the spring, it does seem like a song remembered.  The tree remembers the steps to this dazzling show for us all to see.  I, however, only have to remember to stop and watch. And every year there are more branches, more blossoms. Every year, there is more to love. When I stand underneath it, gazing up at the endless delicate bursts of pinkish white, it feels like a wedding.  I breathe it in.  With wonder.  And gratitude.  

Excerpt taken from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Perennial, 1998.

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