The Birthday Tree
When I was about eight or nine, I started to notice that sometimes when people had a baby they would plant a tree in the baby’s honor. I thought this was pretty cool. We’d moved to a new house when I was six, so naturally I assumed my tree was in the yard of our old house. I mean my parents liked trees. And planting stuff. And me. Of course I had a tree! You can imagine my utter shock and dismay, therefore, when I was told no such Mollie Tree existed.
Frankly, I was pretty incensed and completely obnoxious about it, which was clearly the right play, because for my 10th birthday I asked for (whined for?) my tree, and got one. My dad said I should get a Redbud tree, because (a) it wouldn’t get too big too soon, and (b) because it would flower around the time of my May birthday every year. This, by the way, is so my dad; equal parts sensible practicality and profound sentimentality.
We planted the tree, I felt vindicated, and sure enough she bloomed every May. When my dad sold the house eight years later, I wanted him to tell the buyers about my tree. I knew we couldn’t make them promise to keep it, but I just wanted them to know it wasn’t any old tree. I’m not sure if he ever did, and when he relocated a few years later, I could no longer check up on the old girl, but her new family seemed inclined to keep her.
Fast forward to my 30th birthday. I was a newlywed and three years into home ownership, and we were tackling landscaping in earnest. My dad sent me a birthday card with a check, saying it was to buy a Redbud tree for my 30th birthday. (See? Sentimental.) It took us a while to find one, but find it we did, and planted her in our backyard.
Now anyone who lives in New England probably remembers the Halloween storm of 2011. It dumped over two feet of snow on our house. We happened to be in Jamaica at the time and got home three days later, when much of the snow had melted. We had some small downed branches and a lot of soggy leaves, but no significant damage, except to the birthday tree, which had been split about six inches right down the middle of the trunk’s main fork. Luckily, I married a resourceful man, who wired up the tree for support, and sunk a huge bolt through the joint to give it a chance to mend.
And she did mend. It turned out that we planted her in a slightly awkward spot, where she had to work to reach more sun, but she kept fighting to do so, and now she’s over 20 feet tall. The bark has grown around the bolt, leaving only a scar. And she’s started to grab onto the shed for a little extra stability.
I've started to think about my 30th birthday tree as a pretty good metaphor for my 30s. Lots of growing, a few near disasters, repair work and support from people who love her, but never giving up, stronger for the fight. And reliably blooming every May. Even if she does need to lean on someone for support.
When I turned 40 I got an amazing present from my friend Helene. She drove to our hometown and had “a date” with my tree. That’s her at the top of the page, hugging the Mollie Tree, since we couldn’t be together that day. The tree looks good for 30 (and Helene would want me to let you know she was not yet 40 in that picture).
So that fall I bought my 40s tree. We’ve been a little slow in getting around to putting it in its final spot. But hey, what am I not slow at? She had been planted in the “back 40” among the fruit trees and Christmas trees, and was growing strong. But this year she’s being moved to a prime spot in the front yard, in an open green space away from the house, so she can grow in any direction she so chooses. No mere ornamental tree, she’ll be the star of our yard in spring. I like to think that’s the metaphor for my 40s. I’ve endured, been scarred, but am stronger for it.
All the birthday trees are special, and today, on my birthday, they remind me that:
I have strong roots from where I started,
I can weather the storms—with a little help,
and I can step out into the sun.