A look back at George and the Rose of Sharon

A look back at George and the Rose of Sharon

Our Rose of Sharon is long gone, along with many shrubs we had planted at the old house. I was checking in on this memory as I saw a Rose of Sharon blooming here on a side street in Canton. It jostled free the image of George and his tree. Each day George walks the perimeter of our property, gathering miles under his belt as his surgeon requires. As his health improves, this week we are watching our grandkids while the newlyweds go on their honeymoon. Enjoy the memory with me.

“I’m going to replant this tree,” my husband said. I looked at the squat cement retaining wall and saw a scraggly branch growing crookedly in the poor soil. “You mean this?” I said, sure he hadn’t meant this twig. But he shook his head yes, and because I didn’t enjoy gardening, I didn’t care what he did with it. It looked like a wild stray that had come up through the cracks from an errant seed pod. My mom was at our house that day, and she looked at the twig and declared, “It is only a Rose of Sharon, George. It’s not even a tree — it’s a shrub.” But he ducked us all and dug that twig up.

My garden has never really been my own. Its shape was laid out with a garden hose by my mom, and we edged and tilled it until fertile soil appeared. It was filled with the bounty of her garden, and though today I treasure it, I dreaded its care. I remember the day George took that twiggy Rose of Sharon and planted it on the gentle curve of the freshly dug-up earth. His mom had always told him he had a good hand for planting, and he did, though it wasn’t used to help with the daily intricacies of weeding and care. That fell to me. He was a tree and shrub guy, ever bringing home castoffs from places he worked and slipping them into the ground before I could tell him no.

Because of his tendency to save things, we have several still unknown trees that grow in the backyard. One is 30 feet tall with purple berries the birds go crazy over, and another is a thorny beast with branches that look like tentacles from the deep. Any tiny seedling is something to save, in his mind, and this tender approach has thrilled and mostly vexed me. He plants them but doesn’t tend them until it’s time for their wild branches to be trimmed. This is who we are, so I tend the perennials around them to keep the beds in check.

The Rose of Sharon, despite all odds to the contrary, grew and grew. And despite his wayward care for other things he’d planted, he carefully trimmed this one each year, coaxing it into the shape of a tree. For 25 summers it graced us with bountiful purple blossoms. On some weekend mornings, when July had crept in on warm breezes, he’d sit in the kitchen window and watch the Rose of Sharon and her proud display. I could see he loved it more than anything else.

Last year during the heat of a pandemic summer, I noticed the tree had a crack running down to the base. “Your tree is cracked, honey. We’re going to need to cut it down next spring,” I told him gently. He looked at it, walking around it at length, and didn’t say a word. She bloomed furiously, as if putting on a show for us to remember her by. On a cold day in December, I found him outside on a ladder carefully wrapping strands of lights around her branches. As he lit her up and came inside, he stood by the window admiring the glow around the frosty ground.

Last week I’d had in mind to call the tree trimmer for an estimate on cutting down the Rose of Sharon and that thorny beast of an unnamed tree. There was a wicked wind that blew through — I can’t name the night — and when we got up the next morning, I looked outside. My eyes grew wide, and I yelled for George and said, “Honey, your tree blew over.” And she had. He didn’t say much, and the next Saturday he pulled on his hat and work gloves and went outside. I followed him, and as he sawed off branches, I stacked them in the burn pile. Then we sat at the picnic table as the sun shone on our faces.

Sunday morning came, and when he emerged from the bedroom, I could see he’d been crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he couldn’t stop thinking about the tree. Before I could open my mouth to respond, he went on. “It’s seen so many things. It saw the kids growing up and playing, the parties we held with friends, the fires that went late into the night. It’s held our cats as they climbed its branches and listened to our arguments and laughter,” he said. “But mostly, it grew into a tree when it was only meant to be a shrub, thriving against all odds, because I made it believe it could. That tree was like me.”

I sat silently, feeling humbled my husband had held such a secret beautiful thing in his mind. We looked out the window at the now empty spot where it once stood and held the memories like treasure.

Melissa Herrera is a published author and opinion columnist. She is a curator of vintage mugs and all things spooky, and her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” can be found at www.tinyurl.com/Tonolives. For inquiries, to purchase her book or anything else on your mind, email her at junkbabe68@gmail.com or find her in the thrift aisles.

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