Trees are wonderful things. They are versatile beings that bring joy into our lives. You can build houses in them, climb them, carve your name into them, throw toilet paper over their branches, tie rope swings to them, sit in their shade on a hot, sunny day, and oh yeah, they keep us all from dying. Truly, trees are amazing, and I feel as though we all have a favorite tree. Maybe it was the tree in your backyard growing up, maybe it was the one in the park you got your frisbee stuck in, maybe it was the one by the lake you swam in all summer.
For me, it was the rotten crab apple tree in my parent’s backyard, I call him General Crab. The fruit he bore was a message: It was a sour F-you to the neighborhood for all the pesticides and chemicals that he endured. To the artificial colors, fake rocks, and plastic mulch, to the illegitimacy of the atmosphere. My brother and I took on the duty of delivering that message with our trusty tennis rackets, slamming inedible, browning fruit into our vain neighbor’s perfect garden.
Our neighbor was an irritable man. He complained everyday about the noise of happy children. Honestly, if he wanted a quiet environment, he shouldn’t have moved to a neighborhood full of other people.
He particularly enjoyed picking on my family a lot, especially my brother. He once told him he would amount to nothing. I’ll have you know, my brother is a natural genius who missed only one science question on the ACT, so that prediction seems unfounded.
The neighbor’s garden was so pristine and obsessively kept that the only way it could have been worse is if the flower bed actually spelled out “I’m better than you.” In the end, I think he hated us because we were not the average family for the area. My family was liberal while the neighborhood was conservative. Both my parents worked — no wait, let me rephrase that: My mom worked when she was supposed to be a housewife like all the other women on the block. My brother and I were never particularly social with the other kids on our street — like there was this unspoken law that we had to get along with the other families. We also never kept up with the yard, the lawn always looked dead and the shrubbery was way overgrown. One neighbor said to my mom once, “Oh Denise, I wish I could just let the house go like you, then I could spend more time with the kids.”
We almost never got invited to the parties or the cookouts, and when we did, it was because they knew we couldn’t be ignored forever. My favorite excuse was, “You guys are always so busy so we didn’t bother with the invitations.” If you put this through the suburbia translator it comes out as “Fuck off, you’re weird.” You see, suburbanites have their own language: They almost never curse or say anything “uncouth” because a good suburbanite is supposed to be polite and keep up appearances. Really, it is just a lot of misdirection.
General Crab tree though, he was as blunt as could be, and I loved it.
The best part was when a crabapple would split apart mid air, spewing guts onto the freshly trimmed grass. My brother had a really great back-hand that did the trick. Oh, that neighbor would get so angry, and my mom, while telling him “it was an accident” and “they are just kids,” would pat us on the back. It was the silent war of rotten fruit that we won, and it is a part of my childhood that I won’t forget.
General Crab is retired now, his decrepit branches swing low and the fruit comes less and less every year. He had a good run though, and I was honored to be a part of it. When I get back home for the summer, I think I’m gonna give that tree a great big hug.