I would like to believe that my early childhood was filled with love and a naive yet pure happiness. I have many memories with my mother and father at the house I grew up in. Our home was at the end of a culdesac, surrounded by these towering pine trees that bordered our property. We had a huge crab apple tree in our front yard that blossomed bright fuchsia flowers in the spring. We only got to enjoy them for a few weeks before they started loosing their color, shriveling, and then falling to the ground, making room for the crab apples that would sprout in the summer.
We also had an orchard of cherry trees to the right of the house, just beyond the garage. Every summer, dad and I would take the ladder down to the orchard and spend several consecutive days picking cherries together. He would wear his bulky, black sunglasses and his big, tan, flappy, sun hat. I would wear an old, baggy t-shirt, along with a pair of my mom’s sunglasses that were equally as bulky as dad’s. This was back in the day before spray sunscreen was cool, so we used the ‘normal’ sunscreen. Dad wouldn’t dare trust me with the whole tube, so he squeezed what he thought was an adequate amount into the palm of my hands, and I would then rub the white, greasy cream into my skin. He would always ask me to apply sunscreen on his forehead and to the back of neck. This is where I stepped in and saved the day! Looking back on his request, those spots were easy to reach by himself, however as a young daughter, those moments when my dad requested help from me made me feel useful and therefore cherished and loved.
We were literally a perfect team because I was super short and dad was super tall, so I would start with the branches near the ground, and he would work on picking from the next level up. We would meticulously go through all the branches, dropping the ripe cherries into a big blue bowl and discarding the moldy ones. Despite the sticky-hot weather and the incessant bugs, those afternoons spent with one another felt like a moment encased in a vacuum, where nothing in the world could bother our peaceful cherry picking.
When our bowls were filled, we’d make our trek back to the kitchen. Eager me insisted on carrying the fruit to the house. As a five year old though, a bowl full of plump cherries was heavy! Therefore, halfway to our destination, I always surrendered my bowl to dad, and he would transport the fruit the rest of the way. We quickly emptied the fresh cherries into Tupperware containers, and then went back out for more. Once we cleaned off the lower branches, it was time to break out the ladder. I remember being so excited to climb to the very tip-top and reach for the highest cherries on the tree. As I climbed the ladder, dad would firmly hold the ladder’s legs on the ground and then when I made it half way, he would climb a few steps up and we’d both be on the ladder together, picking our cherries. He’d hold the cherry bowl and I’d drop my cherries down into the bowl below my feet. I remember him reminding me to be careful and to not climb too far up. I’d be 3 steps away from the top and he’d tell me to stop there, but somehow I’d always inch my way up to the very top. I wouldn’t call that dangerous or sneaky, but ambitious!
As I grew older, life seemed to become hectic and complicated. And then one summer, the afternoons of dad and I picking cherries together stopped. Our fruit orchard aged with us, and the trees slowly no longer produced any cherries. Perhaps, the year we quit picking the cherries, the trees lost their sense of love and quit trying to live. Or maybe they had just naturally grown older and didn’t have the energy to grow the cherries. I’m sure they miss seeing my dad and I though, just like I miss seeing them.
My fond memory of the fruit orchard and picking cherries with my dad on those hot summers days reminds me that life continues on no matter what. As I figure out that life never stops for those that are living to catch a breath, I realize the life can be relentless. It doesn’t stop to treat the wounds it makes or nurture the trust it builds. That is up to us. As human beings, we must make the effort to be persistent and have perseverance to endure life’s creations. We must foster the feelings that we enjoy and quell those that are hurtful. The trick is figuring out which of life’s creations are truly helpful and which are harmful, regardless of our own thoughts, because as you may already know, sometimes what hurts actually helps.
As I type this reflection out, I can see my dad’s big smile under that floppy hat of his with the backdrop of one of the calmest skies I have ever seen with a few creamy white, delicately fluffed clouds, drifting peacefully across an endless shade of blue. I can hear the bugs singing from under my tiny feet, a choir loud enough to feel like I’m standing in the middle of Memorial Stadium during fall football season. The exact words exchanged between my dad and I on those carefree days may be lost, but the mood will be remembered for a lifetime. If only days like those could be relived. If only I could run to my father right now and take his hand, grasp it in mine, intertwine our fingers and lead him to our fruit orchard to pick some cherries. To laugh with him and boast that I just found the biggest, juiciest, shiniest cherry in all the land.
It’s marvelous how long memories can float in our minds. I don’t know what I would do without them. As my dad and I have drifted a part over the years, those memories of us together have helped me keep living for moments like those again. They have made me want to be vulnerable, so I can unknowingly fall into a situation that will spark an unwavering feeling of joy and trust. This desire to keep going, to keep discovering life’s creations, has kept me happy. However, I will admit it is difficult to stay happy when you are constantly confronted with rejection, misunderstanding, and distrust. But being able to hold onto the times that I felt understood and loved is what encourages me to be optimistic about my relationship with my dad. I firmly believe if we had the power to create such an effortless happiness back then, we still have the power to do that now. We just have to find it within ourselves again.
Until next time,