Just up the road from our driveway, in the yard of the house at the corner, there grows this ancient sycamore tree. I am sure it is ancient—it’s gigantic. Its white and gray mottled bark wraps a trunk as large in diameter as a medium size tabletop. In places, the bark peels and curls away, like dried hide, revealing smooth white skin underneath. And its leaves, resembling great webbed maple leaves often as broad as eight inches, quickly cover the ground when they start to fall—pieces of brown and yellow parchment for a child to rustle around in, or to make pretend dresses from as I recall. Every time I notice that old tree, something similar to melancholy comes over me, and I am reminded of years past, and feel unsettled, sad.
Immediately, I’m drawn to the details of the hazy, far away days of my childhood spent playing in the woods, up and down the oiled or sandy roads of East Texas (depending on which county we lived in), always in the vicinity of sycamore trees. In an attempt to understand the feeling of loneliness associated with this completely unrelated sycamore tree of today, I recall those times.
I remember that I usually played alone. In the county with the oiled roads, I learned to roller skate. The smell of the oil mixing with the scent of honeysuckle as I struggled to keep the wheels of my skates moving, so they would not bog down into the hot melting tar of the road, was usually my only companion, other than the sycamore trees whose canopy of leaves shaded me. Occasionally a bumblebee would buzz around me, driving me back to the house, once or twice stinging me. Some summers, I smoked muscadine twigs with my cousin, pretending they were cigarettes, while lolling away the afternoon beneath the sycamore trees behind the house. There are other memories, blurry, undefined. Having to do with bootleg whiskey or home brew, coal oil lamps, and fireflies.
I remember listening to our new radio, one of those consoles, a record player and radio combination Daddy bought second-hand, complete with a phonograph collection. I sat in my chair in front of it, beside the open window where a giant sycamore tree grew. All afternoon and into the evening, the soap operas and other radio shows of the early 50’s entertained me. In the afternoons, I sat there alone in the house, while my younger sisters were outside playing, and our parents were doing their chores. Later, while everyone ate in the kitchen, I sat there alone with my supper plate, beside the open window, listening, and imagining the places where the people in the radio lived.
Sycamore trees definitely affect me, unlike any others, and I do not know why. Maybe because they were always present, in every yard of every house in which we lived during my early childhood. Like silent guardians, they watched over me, in my solitude, up and down the roads, in the woods, where I played, and outside that open window. It is only natural, I suppose, that the presence of today’s representative of all the others, would impress me with its familiarity. The old tree simply reminds me of days long gone, of innocent, carefree moments strung together into what became my childhood, leaving me homesick and lonesome for another time and place unlike any other in my life.
Perhaps that’s all there is to it.