I never actually saw the tree or even a picture of it–I only heard about it from my father.
It had to have been planted there sometime after 1930. That’s when the house was built.
It was the year after my grandfather had died suddenly at home one night at age 39 of some mysterious illness. After they took his body away, they found my mother, who was 11 at the time, hiding in a closet.
My Grandmother, the mother of his four children, the youngest of whom was my mother, used some of his life insurance money to build the new house. I don’t really blame her for not wanting to sleep in the same room where her husband had died.
Perhaps it was she who had the tree planted in the front yard. It had been a weeping willow. Perhaps the tree symbolized something to her. Perhaps it symbolized the loss of her husband. If it did, she wasn’t the type to talk about such things.
By the time I came along 17 years later, all that was left of the tree was a slight unevenness in the grass where the tree had once stood. When I was a little boy, If I ran across the yard, which I often did, I had to be careful not to trip.
Years later, when I got old enough to mow the grass, the little sunken spot on the lawn was still noticeable.
The tree was there in 1932, when my father first took off from work, for an hour or so, to go to the small red brick house at 727 East fifty-first street to have lunch with my uncle. He and my uncle had met at the Union Station in Savannah, where they both worked. They were both young, and single, and outgoing– and they were both the type who made friends easily. My uncle had invited my father to accompany him to his mother’s house for lunch.
When I was a teenager and interested in such things, my father told me that my mother was just a 12 year-old girl the first time he went there and that “he didn’t pay her much mind.” I doubt my father paid much mind to the tree either.
The tree was there when my mother posed for a photograph in front of the fireplace in her wedding gown on Saturday, June 24, 1938. If she had looked out the front window of the dining room she could have seen it. It was the type of tree that had long thin branches arcing down gracefully from a thick strong trunk. Each of the branches had little green leaves on them and could be gathered into a bundle, and when my mother was a young girl, she and her friends could have used them to swing on, like Tarzan and Jane did in the movies in those days. If she did, there are no photos of it. But the tree was there.
It was there when my father would bring my eighteen year-old mother home from the movies and when he picked her up in his convertible to go for a drive out to Tybee or to the West side of Savannah to watch the Orange Blossom Special pass by. My father always liked trains.
The tree blew down on the night of September 20, 1938. A hurricane that had started off near the Cape Verde Islands, off the West coast of Africa had worked its way eastward across the Atlantic Ocean. That was in the days before hurricanes had names. That unnamed hurricane proceeded up from Jacksonville, one hundred and fifty miles to the South, went right up the Eastern Seaboard and before it finally died in the icy wilds of Canada it had killed nearly 700 people.
And of course our tree.
It was just a tree. Nobody mourns for a tree.
But, when I was a boy growing up in that house I would have loved to have pretended to be Tarzan and swung on its vines.