Back some time in the l980s (do we speak in decades now?) I decided to plant some Arizona Cypress trees at my Vega house. Fast growing, drought resistant. The house sits in the middle of a prairie; I’ve always said no matter what I tried to do with the yard, I lived in the middle of a prairie.
Daddy teased me about the trees. “They’re not going to be tall enough to shade your grave,” he jibed even as he helped me dig the holes. That was Daddy: he might be a naysayer about some project, but he dug in along with the rest of us.
I have two images in my mind of my dad at this house. In both, he wears a pale blue work shirt. The shirt–maybe it was the soft color, maybe how many time literally it had been washed–reminded me of his own good nature. In one of my image/memories he is bent over a spigot out in the northwest yard. He is digging it up to repair an underground leak. Small stones surround him. In his late 70s then, I think about how this must have been a back-splitting strain.
In the other he stands in my kitchen, leaning on the counter still covered in the linoleum that folks of Jess Giles’time, the builder of this house, used on the counters. He fronts the handmade cabinets, now warped with time and slightly askew. He’s got the blue shirt on, the linoleum is a marbling gray. We are gray. My gray Weimaraner, Elsa, has died overnight from internal bleeding. She was 14. We cry together, Daddy and I, in the kitchen with the soft blue shirt. He says he will dig another hole, this time with the tractor. It’s April but the ground is still frozen. She’ll be buried out by the barn.
When my dad died (again, working, leaning over at the farm, moving rocks and broken concrete to shore up an eroding drainage–heart attack later), my mother was quietly inconsolable, but private, covering up her grief. One morning I peeked in her bedroom to make sure she was o.k. I saw she was sleeping with one of my dad’s soft blue work shirts.
This is the legacy of trees.
This summer, when I look at them whipped about in 104 degree weather, losing whatever moisture I and the graces above try to put in the surrounding ground, I think of what he said.
Shade my grave.
Daddy, they are thirty feet high now, hanging on in a prairie which understandably should not have trees. And if I could lie here under them with these memories, I might. In their stubborn greenness despite–despite drought, evaporation, oven-like winds–they remind me of you: also stubborn and resilient but tender, bending as green does to blue in the colorful charts of our lives.