69: The Friendship Tree

69: The Friendship Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

The Friendship Tree

When friendships are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest things we can know.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Only three weeks into our marriage, Richard and I disagreed on what kind of tree to get for our first Christmas. “How about an artificial one so we don’t take the life of a living thing?” I said.

Richard, my traditional husband, wanted a big spruce like the ones from his childhood. Cuddled next to him, I whispered, “How about a live tree that will continue to grow, and grow old with us?”

Richard wasn’t ready to give up his holiday custom and I couldn’t bear to cut down a tree. We finally agreed that I could buy a small live tree (emphasis on “small”) to put on our dining room table, decorated with red ornaments.

The next morning I visited several plant nurseries but couldn’t find a tree small enough. At each nursery, I was informed that a spruce (Richard’s choice) was meant to grow outside and wouldn’t survive indoors. I couldn’t give up the idea of having a live tree to enhance our future Christmases.

At a grocery store I found a small conifer-like tree, labeled “Norfolk Island Pine: does well indoors.” I’d never heard of Norfolk Island but this tree was the right size, ten inches high with four branches. A slight bend in the trunk just above the first branch added personality, symbolizing hopes for itself and our marriage. I decorated it with tiny ornaments.

Three years later, Richard was offered a job in California. It gave us a chance to experience the West Coast. By this time, our little tree was eighteen inches high and had grown additional branches.

When the mover came to pack our belongings, he told me they couldn’t take our tree. “Sorry, Miss, but it’s against the law to bring plants into California.”

Horrors! That tree was our marriage tree. How could we leave it behind? I called Marian, my best friend from college, and told her about the tree. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Since you are driving across country, why don’t you stop here first? David and I can take care of your tree while you are on the West Coast.”

What a solution! We set off with our packed car for the cross-country adventure, the little tree cradled in my lap. I was elated that our special tree would be in good hands while we were away.

Marian and I spoke once a week by phone. I told her about the fabulous Southern California beaches, and she told me about her latest antique acquisition. I ended each call with a wish for the tree’s happiness. She said it was doing very well. “It must be happy,” she said. “The bend in the trunk has straightened.”

After three years we returned east for Richard’s new job in Washington, D.C. Marian and David were expecting their first child. When baby Jessica was born, Richard and I drove to Massachusetts to become godparents and retrieve our tree.

The tree looked great, now over three feet tall. The deep green waxy fronds spread wide and graceful. The bend had straightened, just as Marian described on the phone.

Within a couple of years, Richard and I separated. I moved back to New England to attend school. The tree came with me. At the same time, David and Marian separated. Marian and I continued our weekly phone calls. Our friendship deepened as we adjusted to our new lives. A conversation never closed without an inquiry from her about the tree and my proud response that it was doing well. “You should see how big it has grown. I’m so grateful you kept it for me.”

The tree had become a third party to our calls. By now each branch jutted a yard from the trunk. It was taking up more room. In fact, the top reached my ceiling. Now it had no room to stretch to its full height. I was worried.

I received a new job offer and drove to Boston to look for an apartment. None had a tall enough ceiling for my tree, but I had to move in two weeks. “Marian, I don’t know how I’m going to keep the tree in Boston. The moving company told me it was too cold outdoors to transport a tropical plant.”

Even though it looked like a conifer, my tree was a tropical. After all these years, I had finally learned that Norfolk Island is in New Zealand. The tree would die if subjected to the cold. It was one of the few things that had not changed in my ever-changing life. It had grown old with me, but I couldn’t take it to Boston.

“Why don’t you find another home for it?” Marian suggested. “Your current location has many homes with cathedral ceilings. The tree would thrive if it had a good home.”

“What are you saying? This is the tree that you nursed for me. It is part of our lives, our friendship for all these years.”

“Precisely,” she responded. “I guess it’s time to tell you something about that tree — a long overdue confession.”

What could she possibly have to confess?

“About a month after you left the little tree with me, it died.” Marian continued. “I tried to keep it alive, but it just didn’t make it.”

“Oh?” I breathed.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell you it had died, so I kept talking about it while you were in California. I knew what it meant to you!” She gulped.

I gulped.

Then she said, “When you and Richard came for Jessica’s christening, I panicked. I knew I would have to tell you, but I couldn’t. So, David and I found another Norfolk Island Pine.” She rushed her words. “We were lucky that it was approximately the same size that your tree might have been after three more years of growth. None of the trees had the same kind of bend in the trunk. That’s why I kept telling you it was so happy, its trunk had straightened out.”

As I listened to her confession, my heart filled with gratitude and love for this friend and all she had gone through on my behalf.

Marian continued. “Oh dear Devika, even though it’s a different tree, it is the one that we have known and loved all these years. Now it’s time for you to give it a good new home.”

The next week I found a home for the tree. I hired a U-Haul trailer, covered the tree with blankets against the cold, and drove down the parkway to a beautiful house with cathedral ceilings and tall broad windows. The house was full of light. It was also full of plants.

A young couple greeted me at the door and helped get the tree inside. “It’s so beautiful,” the young wife said. “I’ve always wanted a live tree in our house.” Turning to her husband, she added: “See how tall it is? Perfect for our Christmas this year.”

I handed her the box of ornaments my tree had worn through the years. “This tree has bound a friendship for twenty years. I know it will love living with you.”

~Devika Jones

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