Sad But True

At first, the woman who lived there seemed just a little too picky. I was about to tell her we wouldn’t be interested…but something in the tone she used made me look past her obsession with tree roots and fence posts.

Judy and her father were inseparable.  For as long as she could remember she adored the man. He, a Major, would hurry home from flight training at the base just to be with her.  The Major made her feel special, and happy, and loved.

Judy’s mom didn’t exactly take to motherhood. A product of the times, she was always on a crusade against some injustice besetting the common man. While never really away, it didn’t seem to the young girl that her mother was ever entirely there. She wasn’t a bad mother, but Judy was much closer to the man at the center of her life.

When she was nine, the Major took her on leave to see his old home near Amherst, on the Connecticut River. The trees blazed orange and the air blew sharp as the pair walked the fields her dad had roamed when he was her age. Five years earlier and she would have met the old couple who raised a son there; but time doesn’t wait – even for happy little girls.

He showed her the creek, and the old barn, and the farmhouse where his first sweetheart lived at the bottom of the hill. He used to sled on that hill.  Her name was Ellen Wright.

In the forest they found a handful of acorns and stowed them carefully as the light began to fade. She was sad to leave but the Major explained how nothing lasts forever; and somehow that put her little heart at ease. Judy carried those acorns back to Denver in a brown paper bag that never left her sight.

As a project, they managed to germinate one of the seeds in a paper cup. Judy was pleased knowing this tiny tree was from where her father was her age. In the summer they dug; and planted that fragile sprout behind the secondhand house the Major bought for them. They watered it, and cared for it, and watched it grow.

Both Judy and the tree grew. When she was 12, Judy’s father went to Viet Nam and never came back.

She cried and cried.

That little girl still lives in the small house her father was so proud to buy.  Dated and worn, it isn’t much to look at. Dated and worn, Judy still has the tree she raised from the place where her dad was her age. The tree is tall and strong.

Judy never married. The only man who never hurt her had gone long ago; and the brave Major’s daughter never really got over it.

To drive past today you’d see an average house, on an average street, with an average fence behind an average tree. I know better. That average fence was built with extra care. I know because I built it.

And in the average yard on the average street you’ll see a graying woman linger beneath a magnificent Oak – imaging a time long past in the embrace of the only man she ever really loved.

She trusted me to build her fence and I was happy; and sad; and grateful for overlooking her obsession with tree roots and fence posts.