by Dorothy Riley Nevils
I WAS A TOMBOY GROWING UP. I never said the word, but it described my behavior. Having disdain for “50s feminine behavior,” I liked rather to do what my brother did—and my dad wished my other brother would—stuff like walk behind a pair of mules as the blade turned the earth inside out. I tried it, but the mules, as stubborn as I, never cooperated, setting their hooves where they willed and my feet like tic-tac-toe marks.
Our farm, or what I thought was ours, was an expansive lot with stretches of apple, pear, peach, mulberry, and plum trees; and my stepmother, a dutiful wife, would cram Mason jars full in season, then stack them on a “Daddy-made” cupboard behind my brothers’ bedroom door, enough for the next seasons.
I hated “inside work,” preferring to go, escorted by my “Lassie twin,” rambling in the woods for asparagus and poke salad, a wild green that Mother mixed with the garden’s variety; or for a blooming bush to drag up to decorate the yard. Then, later in the season, I’d stretch my arm through a net of brambles and briars that scratched my dark skin, revealing an ashy gray, for blackberries to sell for next to nothing.
I’m still in love with nature, digging and rearranging God’s gift of green, tenderly coaxing flowers to show all of their colors, and turning weeds into fertilizer. In spring, however, I did what I’d put off for some time. Joyce Kilmer’s poem from grade school, “Trees,” hung in my mind as I made the decision.
A difficult decision
In my backyard was a huge tree. We’d watched it merge, a sort of transfiguration, from two strong independent selves, to become one, its limbs had provided shade for my children and their pets, and for my grandchildren and neighborhood kids as they frolicked on the gym set.
Recognizing that the “twins” were aging, I had set out a redbud tree a few feet away. A little slip of a thing, it caught the sunshine the larger ones allowed, and the rain fell gentler on its limbs; but, as it grew, it leaned away, stretching toward the sun, seeking its own place.
The mothering twins were taken away a few days ago, leaving just a stump, a memory of its old self. That stump will “mother” the redbud as it seeks its own way, reaching toward that same sun, but in its own way.
I’ll continue as I am able to help her as she asserts herself, repositioning the stakes as she matures. The flowers already bring a smile as I look out my kitchen window. The tree will grow with confidence, bringing new beauty to its new space. I’ve set free the old and embraced, even encouraged, the new. I am pleased with what God has made.
Dorothy Riley Nevils is a member of Bethel Lutheran Church in Gary, Indiana, and past president of the Indiana/Kentucky Synodical Women’s Organization. A retired teacher, she writes for a local newspaper. This blog first ran in July 2017.