On my annual Southern Sojourn (states visited: Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi), my siblings and I are telling childhood tales to my 15 nieces and nephews still young enough to find the notion of us as children fascinating. “The Happy Willow” featured in more than one story, which sent me scurrying through the WordBowl archives for this piece, PATIENCE:
Our Word-of-the-Day is one of the very first suggestions submitted to WordBowl, delighted I drew it at last. From the indomitable (and patient!) Amy Willstatter, media-maven, Moxie-Mom, early-edge entrepreneur.
My mother gave birth to two boys as we idled in Houston waiting for my father — retired from MLB at twenty-seven, in need of a new vocation — to plow through pharmacy school; she gave birth twice again as we settled in Mississippi, waiting for my father to inherit a family business.
Great Uncle Ted and Great Aunt Myrtle instigated this scheme for their retirement, for my father to assume his “rightful” role. They oversaw the construction of our new home, a symbol of our no-longer-peripatetic, now rooted life.
My parent were no BabyBoomHippieCommuners, but the virgin backyard evoked some dormant bucolic dream, they drew up plans, tilled vegetable beds, planted snap bean bushes instead of hedges along the chain link fence. They selected saplings to supplement the towering, spindly pines, these new trees would grow, they claimed, to shade the bay window in the kitchen, Japanese Maples and Magnolias would in time cast dappled shadows on the terraced walkway, a willow would one day weep majestic in the back yard.
Between gardening sessions, my father taught me to throw a baseball, insisting I throw from the shoulder, like a boy, none of this girly from-the-wrist business. Hours we spent throwing, pitching balls to imaginary batters, or, one season, to knock slugs off the tomatoes, the year of an infestation no pesticide proved powerful enough to kill. We planted watermelons that year, too, which grew round as bowling balls and tasted just as sweet.
One year begat a bumper crop of snap beans, our family jammed around the kitchen table, snapping beans until our fingers reddened, an endless parade of beans at dinner, beans swimming in stewed tomatoes, beans glistening with butter and Morton’s salt, beans slathered with cream of mushroom soup, beans with diced frozen carrots, their uniform color and symmetry in sharp contrast to the beans snapped by fingers of varying sizes and strengths, beans boiled, frozen in plastic bags, thawed, cooked limp.
Trees grow more slowly than children, my city-bred parents discovered, and in order to weep, willows must be planted near water. We had maples only slightly taller than the snap beans or my young brothers, magnolias that bore a single blossom, and what we forever dubbed The Happy Willow, branches reaching uproarious to the sky.
The passion for gardening faded, beans supplanted by proper hedges, tomato beds replaced with flowers, sapling-sprouted trees watered and pruned with more prayerful hope than confidence.
Great Uncle Ted staved off retirement for another year, and then another, my father his second-in-command. My brothers grew, eager for their presumptive baseball birthright, my father taught them to throw, to hit, to catch, the proper way to slide into third, games in which they took turns as pitcher, batter, catcher, shortstop, The Happy Willow serving as second base.
I graduated from college before my father assumed ownership of the family business, inherited the family home with its stoic, stately trees shading the bay windows, just as my parents once envisioned growing for themselves.
Do YOU have a word you think could be a story? Feel free to drop it into WordBowl!