Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dogwoods Take Me Home

Cornus Florida
Photo Credit: Autumn Eden Photography
There was a beautiful dogwood tree in our backyard on Kenmore Road in Amherst, Virginia. My brother Danny and I built a treehouse in it one summer. Built is a grand word to use to say that we placed a small piece of plywood in the middle of a group of supporting limbs. We weren't exactly craftsmen, but that little piece of wood gave us a bird's-eye view of the property, and fueled our imagination. 

My dad had some concerns about our lack of respect for the state tree of Virginia, and reminded us it was against the law to cut the tree or hurt it in any way. Daddy's patriotism to the Old Dominion ran deep.

Every time I see a dogwood tree, my thoughts turn to home, and Dad. The cornus florida is not one I see very often here in Utah, where I have lived these last 35 years, but occasionally, I see the beautiful blossoms in photographs. Sigh.
Sitting on the stoop. Apparently "Electrically heated" homes were all the rage in the mid-sixties.

The house on Kenmore Road was brand-new when we moved into it.  The three bedroom ranch had a bath and a half, and Daddy finished half of the basement after we lived there for awhile. I remember how the hallways echoed as we ran down the bare wood floor into our new rooms the first time we saw the house.  I would have my own room.  I felt like a princess.

I was a princess.  Daddy's Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

Danny and I on the teeter totter.

Eventually, there was a clothesline out back, and a swing set, and a sloping hill that went from the back yard, and leveled out to the area where the dogwood tree stood just before the woods where the honeysuckle vines grew. 

Amherst's barber, Mr. Whitten was our neighbor on one side. Mr. Whitten had boxes of candy at his house, just like at his barber shop. Whenever we stopped by to say hello, he would let us choose a candy from his supply. As you might imagine, we liked to visit Mr. Whitten as often as possible. Mom cautioned us against being pests.

Behind his house, adjacent to our yard, he had a gas tank that provided hours of entertainment for my friend Karen and me, as we straddled each side to ride our "horses." The pipes on the ends of the tank were our horses' heads. It didn't matter that we had to ride in opposite directions; we had great imaginations.

The Fox family, two doors down the street had three boys, and I was friends with the middle son. My grandpa had given me a pocket knife from his department store, and I took it with me when Blain invited me to see their garden.  We pulled up some of the baby carrots. When I "whittled" my carrot with my knife, I removed a slice of my index finger.  My first kiss came from Blain. I am unclear as to whether the injury was connected to the kiss. I was five; his was my first kiss, and I thought he was very special, much nicer than the older boys on our street.

The Campbell's lived to the west of us. Whenever there was a mouse in our kitchen, which in my mind was often, Mama would have their teenaged son come catch it.  

I have distinct memories of Mama on a kitchen chair, screaming bloody murder. "A mouse! A mouse! Go get Michael!" Michael rescued her from the little rodents whenever they dared disturb her domestic tranquility, which seriously, seemed quite frequently.

Hot summer days that seemed to never end as I lay on the hill in our backyard figure prominently in my memory. My back would be damp from the dewy grass while I watched the clouds go by.  I loved finding pictures in the clouds. My mom taught me that; to look for animals and shapes in the clouds. 

I learned how to make crowns and necklaces out of clover flowers. We picked bouquets of dandelions for Mom. We would find the delicate, yellow honeysuckle vines in the woods, and sip the sweet nectar from the bottom of the flower after we separated it from the stem.

Learning to ride a bike was accidental.  My bike was equipped with a purple-flowered banana seat and sissy handle bars, complete with streamers and training wheels. 

The hill in our backyard provided hours of entertainment as I rode my bike down it, over and over again.  I would drag the bike up the hill, and push it toward the edge of the woods past the lone dogwood tree, and then ride at great speeds to the edge of the hill, thrilled with the rush as the bike clattered down the bumpy grass past the carport.  

One day as I was doing my "route," one of the training wheels fell off.  "You're riding your bike! Your training wheels are off!"  my friend yelled to me.

"What?" I asked wildly, looking down at my tires.  

Then I promptly wrecked.  I couldn't believe it. I had ridden, for a short distance, a bike without training wheels.  Once we removed the other wheel, I rode a bike as if I'd ridden one all of my life. What a liberating feeling to have mastered such a feat.

Daddy and Mama planted three pine trees in the front yard. They were so small, I could leapfrog jump over them the day they were planted. 

When I went home last summer for my little sister's wedding, Daddy took me on a driving tour of the houses we had lived in when I was growing up. How surprised I was to see that only one tree was there when we pulled up to the tiny house, and the pine was oh, so big; it had crowded out the other two. It was taller than the house, which was much smaller than I remembered.

Dogwood flowers. PHOTO CREDIT: Autumn Eden Photography

When Daddy passed away a few months ago, just before Christmas, my mother wanted to do something for my brothers and me, to help us through our mourning. She gave us each a check, with the idea that we would plant a tree in Dad's memory. At the time, I filed it away as a nice idea, but didn't know if I would ever get around to it.

As I survey the bare yard surrounding the little house where I will be moving next week, I think that planting a dogwood tree will be just the thing to do to spruce up the place. I need to plant grass, and a tree would definitely give the stark little yard some character. It will be a nice reminder of Virginia, and of my father. Daddy would be very proud. The dogwood will help me feel at home again.


  1. You took me there with your words. To the place you grew up as a child.

    Such a great idea to plant a dogwood tree in your new yard. I love that!

    1. Melinda, thank you. I am looking forward to watching new grass grow, and tending to my little dogwood, in honor of Daddy.

  2. LOL! Loved the bike description! And the dogwood is highly appropriate--how cool!

    1. Oh, thanks! Did you have a banana seat bike, or are you too young to have had one? They seem to have made a comeback!

  3. Yes, I remember the dogwood by our house on King Road. Such a beautiful tree.

    1. Where is King Road? I agree; dogwoods are beautiful!


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