Can you mourn a tree? Yes, you can. I’ve mourned many. Today I mourn the Willow Tree…a 100 year old willow that graced the children’s playground, now called Tiny Town, at the Floral Park Recreation Center.
After standing sentinel over children playing in her shade for 100 years, she was officially pronounced dead by the town and removal began yesterday.
I saw the post on my former home town’s Facebook page…and shed a few tears.
This is not “the Willow” but one that looks a lot like it.
It’s just a willow, I told myself. Just a tree. Heck, trees died to make the tissues in the box on my desk. Heck, I live and work on a 17 acre tree farm! I grow trees so that they can be cut down and sold!
But…it’s not the Willow.
Let me tell you about the Willow. First, she gets her name capitalized, and she gets a gender, because she was a motherly tree. Tiny Town was a small area set behind the recreation center offices. When I was a child, it was an area intended for kids newborn to about age 5 to play in, and there was a larger playground opposite the Rec Center for older kids. That area housed gymnastic rings, huge slides (which of course we waxed with wax paper saved from our lunches or swiped from the kitchen to make them slicker), metal jungle climbing bars that would make parents apoplectic today for their dangers, and swings that had an arc like you wouldn’t believe.
Oh, that playground. I grew up only a few blocks away. I’d leave the house in the morning and not come back until late in the day. When I was very small, my mother would push me in the turquoise blue stroller up the hill on Magnolia Avenue to the tunnel, a concrete underpass beneath the Long Island railroad. There day-glo graffiti, mostly peace symbols and doves (this was the early 70s remember) would fascinate me. If a train came by, we’d stop and count the cars together, and make a wish on the caboose.
Past the scary Sump, the rainwater collection site that was my only source of wildlife in an urban town, and past one block of houses, and then the Rec Center. We’d go into Tiny Town and my mother would sit in the shade of The Willow, watching me scamper about, digging in the sand, climbing the weird circle things that rose like mushrooms on a metal pole, or rock on the spring sea horses that would pinch your hand and make you cry if you shoved your hand into the spring to see how it worked. Which of course, every kid did, at least once.
The Rec Center had these swings when I was little that were shaped like swans. They were like buckets, and your legs stuck out through two holes as if you weren’t just riding the swan but inside the swan, if you can picture it. There was a white swan, a black swan, and a white swan. Just like that. I always had to ride the black swan. If another child was in the black swan, I would insist upon waiting until it was free.
My mother would lean against the Willow, her sunglasses pushed to the bridge of her nose, gently pushing the swan. I can see her as I type this. I can feel the rough bark of Willow under my hands as I clamored up between the split trunks, shimmying out onto the thick branch as if I was on top of the world when I was only a few feet above the ground.
I read today that The Willow was 100 years old. How long she stood, and how many generations of children did she watch over! My mother might have been one of those children, for she grew up in my hometown, too. And if I had stayed there and had children, my children would have known her grace…
But alas, times change, and I changed, and we moved on. Today, we mourn the passing of The Willow. I thank her for her memories, and hope that one day, in heaven, God will have one planted in His garden for me to embrace again.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.