Forever: ‘The Tree’ takes me home
The following originally was published on Jan. 19, 2013.
The last few days, I have been in Hobart — “Smallville,” I call it — celebrating the wonderful, wacky life of my mother.
Part of the trip included a trip to 1300 W. Iris, where the son of one of my high school classmates lives with his wife and daughter.
We rudely marched into their home on June 1 and interrupted their dinner to see our old place. Part of the visit was seeing “The Tree.”
I hope you enjoy it for the second time around.
“I always thought of myself as a house. I was always what I lived in. It didn’t need to be big. It didn’t even need to be beautiful. It just needed to be mine. I became what I was meant to be. I built myself a life. I built myself a house.”
George Monroe, the character Kevin Kline portrayed in “Life as a House,” a 2001 film so rip-your-heart-out sad I cannot recommend its viewing, uttered those lines.
These days I am thinking much of George and his difficult son Sam.
And 1300 W. Iris Ave. And the house that stands sentinel there atop a hill on the western edge of the diminishing little town of Hobart, Okla.
And a tree that is as much a part of that house as are the wooden shingles, the upstairs windows and the stovepipe chimney that stands erect o’er everything else.
I love that tree. The Tree.
Nineteen hundred and sixty-five, it was, when aspiring attorney Johnny Perry and his wife moved their brood of four into the old white, two-story farmhouse at 1300 W. Iris. The populace of sleepy little Hobart thought they were either batty or unusually cruel.
The Perrys’ four children, ranging in age from 7 to 14, became DIYers of the most protesting sort. While Nellie Perry’s cousins weaved their carpentry magic on the inside of the house, the Perry kids became slaves to outside chores in the sweltering summer heat of southwestern Oklahoma.
The Perry kids were put into manual labor they deemed cruel and unusual punishment. They worked hours painting, planting and paving the way for their future.
Every day they sought shelter beneath the tree’s comforting shade.
Fast forward to 2008, a decade after Johnny Perry’s death. His wife makes the logical decision to move nearer her children and opts to sell the “Perry Place” and its 10 acres.
It is a decision that makes the Perry children and their children swallow hard. It is a decision made of sound mind and body.
But it pains the very souls of all involved.
Fast forward another couple of years and the pain has grown even stronger. The couple who purchased the Perry Place have let it work its way toward ruins.
The evergreen trees the Perry kids planted as seedlings. The yard they worked to groom. The outbuildings the youngest of them deemed his personal space.
The house itself, where Christmas was celebrated in a boisterous, special way.
All in decay. All crumbling to the point of being difficult to see.
All making the Perry kids wonder if they had made the wrong decision. All making the foursome and their families miss life as it once was.
Until January 2013. And news the house, sitting vacantly on the realty market, had sold to a dear family friend.
The rowdy would return, the children reassured one another. The joy would be back, they affirmed, in a place that seemed to elasticize its 100-year-old seams and 1,600 square feet to welcome in the masses.
The deck on the western side of the house would again welcome visitors who soaked up the day’s final rays of sunshine.
And marveled at The Tree.
As a young teen, unknowingly I tried to kill it.
As an adult, unknowingly I tried to kill myself.
The Tree’s sap is my blood. And vice versa. Picture Elliott and E.T.
It shaded me and provided a sturdy arm for a tire swing. Its branches spread like wings and wrapped themselves around the part of the house that once was my bedroom. Those same branches provided the exit my friends and I used for late-night rendezvous.
One of those friends and I thought we were doing a good thing the day we decided to prune the branches.
The Tree survived our attempted massacre. And other things too numerous to list.
An American elm, we were told it was. The truth: Nobody cared.
The girth of its trunk told its age of 90 or more years. Its twisting, turning branches told of its character.
It hunkered down over the back deck, back room and upstairs bedroom — my room — as would a mother hen protecting her young.
It survived droughts. It survived storms that weighted down its already massive branches to the point of needing surgery.
Such a thing of beauty in its awkwardness, the crew who first came from across the state to repair it — cables anchored to the thickest limbs — refused payment. And came back year after year after year to make sure it was continuing to survive.
Pure ecstasy reverberated through a Perry-family email chain when the news broke the house was again in good hands.
It came with a bitter pill to swallow.
“I’m sorry, but the tree or at least part of it will be sacrificed. It’s just a danger. An Oklahoma ice storm or a storm wind will take out the door.”
Such read an email from the new owner.
The Perry kids mourned the loss of a loved one who has befriended them for nearly half a century.
And then went to work.
It was the kid of a Perry kid, in fact, who suggested cuttings from the tree be grafted and planted in a yard in Kansas City. And in Payne County. And in St. Louis. And Mexico. And Chicago. And Barcelona.
Surely, such is the circle of life.
George Monroe said “With every crash of every wave, I hear something now. I never listened before. I’m on the edge of a cliff, listening. Almost finished.”
With the paraphrasing of just a few words, his thoughts again touch close to home.
“If you were a tree, Sam, this is where you would want to be: attached to a house, facing the western horizon. Listening. Listening.”