This is something I wrote based off a one-word prompt over at oneword.com. The premise of that site is that you get 60 seconds to write something based off of their one-word prompt. I was so inspired by the word “magnolia” that I just went with it, writing for a good half hour. I’ve edited it a bit and want to share the piece here. I’m afraid this is more of a lament, and less of an actual story, but here it is just the same. Also, I’m sorry if it this post is a little depressing…
Word prompt: magnolia
Word count: 683
When I was little–probably ages 4 through 9–I thought the magnolia tree in my grandfather’s front yard was a very tall tree. I thought that when I climbed up to the first branch and perched there I was sitting high in the sky. I thought the branch stretched far out from the trunk, its length swooping across the yard and over the bed of endless leaves beneath it. I thought that if I fell off of that branch, I would get hurt. I never fell. I never climbed any higher, either. I didn’t need to. I was on top of the world right where I was.
A few years ago, I found a picture of myself sitting on that branch, my feet dangling carelessly over the side, and realized I was only a few feet off the ground. I was both shocked and amused and had to chuckle at how different my memory of that tree was! Perspectives are everything. As a little girl, I genuinely believed those few feet–maybe four–from the ground were an epic abyss between myself and the merciless ground below. There’s a picture where my dad is standing there with me. I’m perched and looking very proud of how high up I am(!), but the branch only reaches my father’s chest.
I thought that my father was a very tall man. I thought he was strong and magnificent and that he would always tower above me with a strength and courage I could only dream of ever possessing. Like the magnolia, in my world, my dad was a tall pillar, a force to be reckoned with, a protection and a shelter. I know my memories of him aren’t as skewed as those of the magnolia, but I realize that they can’t all be exactly accurate either. I wish I could ask him questions to differentiate between the realities and the exaggerations. I wish I could ask him why my grandfather–a drunkard and a coward– lived more years than he–a portrait of love, the kindest man I ever knew–did. I wish I could ask him why there’s such truth in the old adage of “only the good die young.” I wish I could understand why a tree can withstand hurricanes and droughts and children climbing all over her branches and still stand, relentless, oblivious to time, strong and beautiful, her blooms new again every spring. And yet, a man who seemed every bit as strong as she, can die. I wish I could understand why she still stands, unchanged, in that same spot where I sat on her branches 20 years ago, but my father’s arms, where I ran to for comfort and courage and love for over 24 years have disappeared.
I can go back to that yard and see that magnolia tree, alive in all her splendor, but there is nowhere I can go to see you, Dad. You once told me that a grave is not where the person is, that you never visited any of your family at theirs because that’s not where they were. But I don’t know where you are. I know of Heaven and I believe you are happy and safe there, but I can’t visit Heaven’s gates to talk to you. I can’t drive by Heaven’s front yard and see you standing there, unchanged, like I can drive by your father’s old house and see my magnolia tree, still beautiful despite time and all of its cruelties. Where can I find you now? If I were ever to begin to forget my memories surrounding the magnolia, it’s still there, just as it was then… Like a living portrait, I can go back and see everything like it was when I lived it, slightly different than my memory, yes, but there nonetheless. But where are you if I forget our lives together? Where do I go to remember you?
I suppose Fitzgerald was right when he said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” You are my hero, Daddy, and your vanishing the tragedy. I miss you.
Originally written: 2 June, 2016