Big trees make good neighbors. Growing up without social media, most of us had no clue what was going on in the lives of our neighbors and friends. Nowadays we can see via Facebook or Twitter what they eat for dinner each night but before this, the concept of being so involved in someone else’s life was foreign.
When we moved into my long time childhood home, I was about seven. I only remember that the bedroom was green and I hated green and it was shadowed by a ginormous, large magnolia tree. Twice as tall and wide as our house, that tree sat gracefully on the property line separating our house from the neighbors. The tree was old and stately with thick solid branches from bottom to top. It was a climber’s dream and I was a climber. Even though we were forbidden from going into the front yard, the minute supervision was gone, I was off. I could get more than half way up that tree in a flash.
It was the third day and while my mother was still unpacking the boxes and chasing my toddler brother around a half filled house, I made my way to the tree. It was quiet on our street, the distant drone of a lawnmower filling the air when it happened. I was busted. This old woman drug me into my new living room and read my mother the riot act.
The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. B, were retirees. Mr. B would quickly become an adopted Pepaw who shared candy and veggies from his garden with us. But his other half, Mrs. B, quickly became the woman who would scream at me for climbing said tree and then swat me with a switch. I was horribly scared of this woman. She was a strong woman who was taller than most and had amazing aim for someone her age. Additionally, she was a chainsmoker and this caused her to have a really deep and authoritative voice. It was not unlike a bullhorn, it could be heard down the block, causing children of all ages to scatter.
That tree shading both those houses would become the site of a Hatfield and McCoy type feud that would continue until Mrs. B got sick. My mother was determined to make that woman like her and she was tireless in her kindness over the years. She baked and gave Pepaw goodies to take home then Mrs. B would toss them into the yard in a symbolic gesture. Mrs. B seemed to thrive on chaos and that tree was her favorite target.
I would love to say that her wrath kept me from that tree, but sadly it did not. It almost became a game of could-she-physically-catch-me-before-I-made-it-to-the-safety-of-my-house. Worse, I was a horrible influence on her grandchildren when they visited during holidays and summers. We would meet under that tree and climb away. Then we’d try to hide and wait Mrs. B out as she and her fly swat stood silently fuming.
At one point, I grew out of the climbing stage and my younger siblings were too scared of Mrs. B to attempt the journey so things got quiet in the feud. Kids grew and that tree continued to grow, its branches eventually hung out over the sidewalk in front of the tree. Usually the town utility workers would trim the branches so that people backing out their driveways would have a clear line of sight but apparently they were scared of Mrs. B too. So after a close call with a minivan, my mother grabbed her limb trimmer and squared her shoulders. Then she went out in broad daylight and trimmed that tree. To this day, I remember being so scared for her that Mrs. B was gonna come out and I would have to call the police. I was convinced so much so that I sat on the front steps holding that extremely large 1980s portable phone. I slowly breathed better after each limb fell as either Mrs. B was napping or not at home because my mother successfully trimmed that tree. She marched home and life went on.
Well … until the police showed up. Mrs. B did everything she could to get us in trouble, while Pepaw stood shaking his head. But it turns out, the tree sat square on the property line so there was nothing Mrs. B could do. The tree belonged half to my mother so it wasn’t against the law to “destroy” or trim it at will.
Eventually Mrs. B got sick and the tree was the last thing on her mind. My mom still took her cookies and little things. Life went on after she passed away and you know I noticed one day that my mother no longer trimmed that tree. It was like out of respect for a worthy adversary, she left it up to the city to do that task. Turns out, big trees do make good neighbors.
— Kalynn Brazeal is a conservative, Christian wife/mom/country girl carrying around an MBA, several decades of business experience and a strong opinion. Now living in the remoteness of North Dakota, she continues to share her column on life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and cake. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.