Love is a Misshaped Tree

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It was Harry Sparks who first told me the love between a father and mother was like a misshaped tree, and therefore different and better than all other love. Boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, and lover and lover? They didn’t know what love was, Harry said. Not really, anyway. Because their trees were tall and straight and perfect. I didn’t understand a word of what he told me, of course. I was eighteen at the time and in the throes of the sort of love that poets and philosophers had always tried to define but never quite managed. I didn’t know what sort of tree my girlfriend and I had. I didn’t think it mattered. I walked away from Harry thinking he’d either had one too many drinks or one too many kids. I wasn’t sure which was worse, but I was sure I wasn’t going to find out.

My girlfriend at eighteen turned out to be the temporary kind rather than the permanent. As it turned out, whatever sort of tree we had looked fine and healthy on the outside but was rotten in the roots. The whole thing was felled when kissed by the slightest breeze. I told Harry that the next time I saw him. He gave me a smile and a thump on the back as if I had taken a larger step toward a greater wisdom. Which was ironic given that I was just trying to make fun of him. But as with most advice given to the young by the old, what Harry said turned out to be true.

After that girlfriend came another, one that’s managed to stick around for the last fourteen years or so. I never thought about what sort of tree we had, either. Until I saw Harry at the hardware store a few weeks ago. We grilled one another with the standard questions of job and family, though Harry had little to say on his end. Harry and his wife are both retired now, and their kids have kids of their own. As he said, “We’ve finally made it to the other side, and the view sure is pretty.” I told him I hoped my wife and I could say the same one day. He had no doubt we would. When I asked him why he felt so sure of that, he slipped right back into his Zen-like wisdom. “Because the two of you have a misshaped tree,” he said.

“Harry,” I said, “I had no idea what that meant twenty years ago, and I have no idea now.” “You and your wife have gone through some tough times?” he asked. “Yes.” “Lots of fear and worry?” “Uh-huh.” “Didn’t know if you’d make it or not?” “Right.” “Had no idea what you were doing when you had your kids?” “Absolutely.” “That’s how I know,” he said. I scratched my head with the hammer I was going to buy. Harry answered my next question before I could ask it.

“When Sue and I first got married, we’d always go picnicking out in this field near the house. There were two trees there. One was this huge oak, the other was this gnarled little pine. I loved that oak, even carved our initials into it one day. HARRY N SUE, it said. Sue, she always liked the pine. She said it was useful in its own way, even if it wasn’t all that pretty. We’d pick at each other all the time over those trees. “One September, someone cut that oak down for firewood. I couldn’t believe it. But they left Sue’s pine. It was so bent up and scraggly that I guess they figured it wasn’t much use, even for firewood. It’s still out there in that field, by the way. No one’s touched it. Know why?” “Because it’s misshapen?” “Exactly. It’s endured the wind and rain and snow. Its bent over and knotty. But it still gives shade to our picnics and its limbs still hold the songbirds. That’s more’n I can say for that oak now. Understand?” I nodded but said, “No.”

“Lots of people think love’s supposed to be like that big oak,” he said, “tall and strong. Not me. I know better. Love’s supposed to be like that pine. Able to take a beating and still stand so it can give shelter and shade to others. That’s the love parents have. What you have now. Understand?” This time I nodded and said, “Yes.”

LOVE STORIES PARTICIPANTS Last week we invited you to participate in the HighCallingBlogs "Love Stories" writing project. This week we're pleased to share the stories that streamed in.

Post by Billy Coffey of Photo by L.L. Barkat of Green Inventions Central.