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Beloved Willow


"Lilac Bouquet" Anna Hurning

The warm breeze of a summer evening carried the faint yells of my cousins and chatter from my distant family. I caught a few of the conversations in my subconscious, none of which had any importance to me. My attention focused on a weeping willow tree in the back of my great aunt Eunice’s enchanted yard. 


The mass of a trunk was hard to miss, and the graceful arches of its long branches were perfect for climbing. My younger self was hypnotized by its beauty. I begged to spend hours of my childhood underneath the long weeping leaves. I don’t remember the first nor the last time I saw this whimsical tree, but many of my fond childhood memories revolve around it.


The elegant willow stood tall as a two-story house and complimented the clear blue skies outside the rural Iowa home. The rope-like branches with olive green leaves twinkled in the setting sun. I never once saw the willow when it was raining, snowing, or even on a gloomy day. Maybe it was because my great aunt’s reunions were always hosted in the heat of July, but my imagination told me otherwise. I believed there was never a time where Mother Nature treated the earth poorly around this willow. Its grace and beauty deserved nothing but the most beautiful days. The spell of that tree and the ardent sun kept me enchanted and entertained for countless summer hours.


I was never excited to go to family reunions as a kid. I knew they would consist of many nagging, personal questions from distant relatives I rarely talked to, and long petty arguments between my cousins. But when these dreaded events were hosted at Eunice’s house, it was a different story. 


Arriving at her home, the typical invasive conversations from aunts, uncles, and even grandparents bombarded me. It wouldn’t take me more than thirty minutes until I found myself sneaking away. Out the back patio, her manicured, charming lawn revolved around the grand willow. The yard became a safe haven for my need for peace and helped all dread filter away. Whether I was galloping around it, playing with my younger cousins, or just sitting underneath and calmly admiring its beauty, there was no other tree or even place I had as much attachment to.


As I got older, the visits to my great aunt’s home changed. Eunice restricted me and the other little ones from swinging or putting unnecessary weight on the scattered branches, and we were told to treat it kindly. I listened to her and stopped myself from climbing the twisting limbs, but I continued to sit under the willow. That was when I started to notice its prominent old age. I noticed the leaves weren’t as lively green as they used to be; its strong base still stood post, but the bark around it was unhealthy. 


While I noticed the strength of the tree’s long, graceful limbs decreasing, my family noticed the strength of my healthy, growing limbs increase. As I grew older, I was encouraged to take the youngest of my family members and watch them in the house while the adults talked. I was discouraged from running away to play under the willow tree like I used to, and expected to grow up for the others around me. I put my childhood curiosity behind me as the willow started to fall. I "acted my age" and neglected the branches to which years of my memories were attached.


I haven’t been to my great Aunt Eunice’s home since they removed my beloved tree, and I still don’t know when I will go there next. I can’t even bring myself to imagine the once vast magical yard without the presence of the willow. It's strange how something as simple as a tree can become such a strong figure in the memories that hold one's past. Willow trees aren’t rare, and there wasn’t anything logistically magical about this single tree, but something about it left a deep impact on my childhood.

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