The Grandfather Tree

I never thought I would give you permission to cut down that giant oak tree in the back of the property, the one that had led my grandfather to buy this land in the first place. It had been tall even when he’d seen it as a young man only a year into his first steady paycheck. He told me about how it had lorded over the property, a gaunt, stern figure looking down over the house from its vantage point at the far corner. The house, my grandfather’s house, was a postage stamp among its gridworked clones, with nothing in particular among its aluminum-sided façade to stand it out among its neighbors, but the tree was its own unique specter, a promise of stability and foundation hovering in the midst of mundane clichés.

Over the years, it had grown as trees grow, slowly, subtly, weathering storms and seasons, throwing down its leaves each autumn only to take them up anew in the spring. By the time I was old enough to see it, it had dwarfed the power lines that now snake through its lower branches. The power company had tried to cut it back, but my grandfather, and then my father, and then at last myself, we had stood firm against any threat to its majestic arms, reaching ever skyward.

When I was a child, it had been struck by lightning. Several of its branches had come crashing down, cleft from the trunk, and destroyed my father’s storage shed. He forgave it. The lightning had not been its fault: The lightning had been a reminder. Don’t reach too high. Know your limits. Aspiration was fine, but everyone had their place in the world and, like Icarus, there was ever the risk of reaching outside of that place and getting hurt.

At the time, I thought my father was talking about the tree.

You’ve hated that tree ever since you met me. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because there’s something in that tree that you can’t be or have, a heritage that contradicts your Gypsy soul, your vagabond spirit. My grandfather, fifteen years gone now, lives in that tree. It is where I am from.

And then, two summers ago, another lightning strike, only this time the giant oak took a direct hit in the trunk, singeing out its guts and leaving a hole large enough for me to stand in. I thought that would be the end of it then, I thought it would collapse after a few months, weighed down by its cavity, destroyed by its own lack.

The next spring, though, the leaves were back on the tallest branches. The gap turned black and ominous, but the leaves were defiant. And then, months later, they fell. As per their wont. And this year, again, they were back.

So the tree lives on, I know. There is life yet in it, even with its charred maw. Perhaps it has another decade, perhaps another century. I do not know how long it was there before my grandfather. I do not know how long it will persist if nothing is done to it.

But it is no longer the tree my grandfather bought this property for. It is a shadow of a ghost. It is time to move forward, and this shell of a tree is holding us back.

So I give you permission, while I am away this summer: Tear it down, make it gone while I am not here to see the deed. Have the remnant of the trunk polished flat so we have a place to sit on the corner of the land and watch the world march on. Chop its flesh into sawdust and splinters. Let it be devoured.

I give you permission to let me let it go.

1 Comment

  1. This was based on four writing prompts:

    1. “I give you permission…”
    2. “I never thought I would…”
    3. Write about a small event that has deeper symbolic meaning.
    4. Write about a storm.

    This started as a response to the third prompt. There’s a tree a few blocks from my house that looks like it was struck by lightning, or perhaps it’s diseased. Either way, its trunk is largely gone, but it produces leaves every year. That felt like a metaphor for Detroit and other blighted areas: decayed on the inside, but still trying to put up a healthy appearance.

    I set that aside, and in the meantime, my writing prompt group put out a few other prompts. I finally had some space today to respond to some prompts, and this is what flowed out.

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