My childhood surroundings were a bit of a contradiction. After all I grew up in what was technically the South Bronx but I lived in a house on a block filled with private homes. At the height of the borough’s decay a time when Howard Cosell famously decried on national television that the Bronx was burning the City had the great ideal to use Eminent Domain to take over all the homes across the street from where we lived. The ideal was to build a school but then the city teetered on bankruptcy and the school became nothing more than a dream and in its place stood a block of houses once filled with vibrant happy middle class families now nothing more than empty shells ready to be burned. Nevertheless my home always felt different. It was as if it was a million miles away from the garbage filled lot that sprang up across the street where the beautiful homes once stood and my backyard was my refuge.
The backyard was a place where as a child growing up alone I could be anyone my mind could imagine. Many a game 7 of the NBA finals between the Celtics and Lakers were played on the basketball court with me alternating between being Magic and Bird. Bird always hit the game winning three, hey I’m a Celtics fan we all have our faults. Oscar Gamble and his cool lean over the plate batting stance would make numerous appearances. My wiffle ball bat would cut threw the air launching the tennis ball, Spaulding rubber balls had way to much bounce for this game, high off the apartment building wall next door. Yet another game winning home run for Reggie Jackson and the Yankees. McEnroe and Borg had their epic battles at Wimbledon recreated in my backyard, though try as I might I could never get it pass Borg. It was almost like he was a wall, oh wait he was. Yes I may have been by myself but it was good times nevertheless.
The other thing my backyard had that made it unique from most of the Bronx was that it wasn’t a concrete playground. There were rose bushes red, pink and white. An apple tree and of course the centerpiece a majestic cherry tree. One year the cherry tree didn’t bloom, it had died and we had to cut it down. I never knew why it didn’t bloom that spring I just knew those sweet tasting cherries that were a part of every summer would be no more. Then one spring morning my mother said to me get up and come outside we’re going to plant a new cherry tree. Now I had never planted anything but I jumped at the thought of a new cherry tree. My mom told me where to dig the hole and we carefully took the small skinny cherry tree that she had brought out of its pot and transplanted it into the ground. Not nearly what the old tree was I said to my mom. She smiled at me, as only she could, and said give it time one day it will be. By the time I was in my 20s I would come to the family house each spring and smile as the little tree was now a big beautiful tree alive with hundreds of cherry blossoms. By summer the blossoms had become cherries and they always tasted sweeter than the ones in the store. Now that may have been my imagination making them seem sweeter than they were but hey the backyard was always the place for my imagination any way. Every time I looked at the cherry tree I would flash back to that day I planted it with my mom and smile. Give it time one day it will be she said and you know what she was right because today our cherry tree was.
When she passed away there wasn’t much I had to remember her by, a picture here a picture there but there would always be our cherry tree. But now I’m told, ironically on Mother’s Day weekend, that when the wind blows it sways just a bit to much. That people worry it may topple. That it has to go. Now I have never been one to let anyone in when it comes to my innermost feelings, which may explain why tears flow out of nowhere sometimes. But that’s a story for another time or the down payment on a European vacation for a lucky therapist. So to this day no one knows how much that tree really means to me. It was after all our tree, moms and me, and I didn’t feel to need to share that with anyone else. But you know what they say time moves on, people and things come and go and our little cherry tree that given time became a majestic cherry tree is no different. Lucky for me the backyard is a place where I could be anyone my mind could imagine so when I look at the place the cherry tree used to stand i’ll just imagine myself as that little boy planting a cherry tree with his mom. It might not seem the same at first but I’ll give it time and it will be.