Ted Harrison: Pop and Water Oaks (short fiction)
Pop and Water Oaks
Pop loved water oaks; those red oak family trees with the tiny leaves. He planted a lot of them. Oh, not like Johnny Appleseed, but he planted his share. (Pop is what my children decided to call my father when they selected a name.)
His planting began with places we lived. In Rowan County, North Carolina the water oaks he planted grew only to be felled by a progress bull dozer. The half dozen he planted in Rockingham County are still thriving. In honor of his first two grandchildren, he planted a tree for each in my front yard in Guilford County.
His Rowan County trees were examples of his plan. Two occupied spaces on either side of our front walk. Then there were three more in the side yard. Each tree was transplanted from the woods nearby, except the Guilford county pair. They came from the woods near home in Draper.
The home in Draper did have a sidewalk so the sentinels took place on either side again. With no such sidewalk at the home in Guilford County he chose one spot in the front yard for his first granddaughter, followed a couple of years late by a sturdy sapling as befitted his new grandson.
In later years, years when I had a different family. He made a botanical switch to azaleas. Truth to tell, Mom liked azaleas. Both of my folks were fond of one variety they had which bloomed later than most of the variety. They called these by the high toned name of “June bloomers.”
My home in Caswell County welcomed the planting of azaleas around our old house. They thrived in the red clay, sandy loam or most any soil. They were hearty plants.
Mom and Pop’s neighbors also favored azaleas. So much so they named their street Azalea Lane. The county caused quite a fuss when they changed the name to Camellia Lane, despite the fact that none of the six houses on the street boasted a camellia bush. Seems the county said there was already another Azalea Lane in Rockingham County. (Of course by then the 3 towns of Leaksville, Spray and Draper had become Eden, don’t you know.)
Even before the ‘great name fuss’ Pop had learned more about his favorite trees. Knowledge he gained by piles and bundles.
Water oaks are given to bearing many leaves. Leaves that measure the size of a man’s little finger. Equipped with a leaf bin on his riding mower, Pop spent as much time gathering his leaves in the fall as he had mowing in spring and summer. The piles of leaves created mulch that could create envy in the heart of any yard crew or a commercial nursery for that matter. The mulch could help the garden that he grew; continued to plant even after Mom died, though smaller. (His grape vines never seemed adaptable to leaf mulch.)
While gathering the leaves did cause some negative comments—they did tend to clog the roof gutters—Pop probably spent more time expressing derogatory words about the magnolia leaves that fell from their tree. He claimed the magnolia’s sole purpose was for Mom’s flower arrangements.
Since his death, I hope Pop has some more water oaks to tend and complain about. He had to love them; else he might not have planted any. I hope Mom is there helping him with a garden, too.
I bring this to you for two reasons. Later this year my first grandchild will be born. Some months ago, prior to any thought of that event, a water oak tree volunteered in my front yard. In
Wake County—yes another North Carolina place name. After my granddaughter comes along, I am going to transplant this water oak from its hiding place in our growth we call ‘shrubbery’. The tree and the child need to grow. I think Pop would like that.