Deb Jellett “Dancing Pine Trees”

Southern Legitimacy Statement
I was born and raised in the South, occasionally eat grits, but hate football. Oh dear.

Every time we moved into a new house, Daddy put in a swimming pool and cut down the pine trees. He didn’t swim, but he liked looking at the water. But, pine trees were the enemy.

“Seen too many hurricanes and too many pine trees dancing in the wind.” He shouted. He was hard of hearing and yelled a lot. Then, he would sway around like a drunk trying to stand still and slap his knee. “Then, snap, crackle and pop and your roof is gone, there’s pine trash in the dining room and some damned Yankee with a chain saw wants you to pay him $1,000 to cut up the flippin’ tree and haul it off.”

As my mother often said, if she had a nickel for every time she had heard that speech, she would have been as rich as Oprah.

Shortly after we married, Bob and I had moved to New York City in pursuit of fast lane careers. Daddy had visited us there once. Mama didn’t fly and so he came on his own. He didn’t like the city much. Oh, he approved of the absence of pine trees, but the city folk, he declared, were rude and crazy in equal measure. Why, they wouldn’t even look him in the eye or return a civil greeting. One woman had shouted at him and threatened to have him arrested for sexual harassment.

“What’s wrong with them?” He bellowed. With some difficulty and a considerable amount of Bourbon, he managed to stay a week, but announced one morning he had had enough and probably would have walked back to Alabama if we hadn’t put him on a plane that very day.

Mama said he stopped talking about pine trees for two whole weeks and told everybody in town that the devil was alive and well and living in New York City. He got mama to pray for my safety amongst the heathens. He wasn’t, he said at the time, so sure God wanted to hear from him. And, besides, he disliked preachers almost as much as pine trees.

It was early October a year ago when we abandoned the fast lane and moved back home. We had bought what Daddy called a “real” house, with a front porch, screen doors that bammed shut and a white picket fence. It sat on a big lot with massive Azalea bushes and magnolia trees in the front yard and pecan and apple trees in the back. But there were no pine trees.

The week after we closed on the house and just weeks before he died, Daddy had called Bartram’s Tree Service and the whole neighborhood had watched as Billy Ray Bartram skillfully applied a chain saw to two pine trees. Mama said Daddy was yelling and swaying, slapping his knees and telling everybody that had it not been for her prayers I would have been taken by white slavers. She said he was happy that day.