Monday, March 16, 2009

Granny Babe's Live Oaks

The Family gathered in Morgan City, LA, this past weekend for a belated birthday celebration for my mom. Back in Elgin, we finally got a good, soaking rain (they've ended the burn ban! Sparklers and bonfires for everyone!), so there is some greenness happening in the median strips as the grass and wildflowers hesitantly reacquaint themselves with the properties of water. But my goodness, our greenness is puny compared to the greenness in Louisiana. And the azaleas! Great, mounding heaps of them, eight feet tall or more--reaching up to the eaves of some people's houses.

And, of course, the live oaks. We actually have quite a lot of live oaks in Texas, especially (out our way), the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformus. But even the venerable pampered giants on Texas college campuses can't match the two leviathans in my grandmother's front yard. They're tall, they're pretty much as wide as her entire lot, and they would be as deep if the family didn't prune them away from her roof. Their trunks are over 5 feet in diameter. Forests of ferns have founded colonies in their limbs. The branch that I used to bounce up and down upon as a child has touched the ground and grown into the soil. The trees are like some sort of massive octupus gods who hold the entire property in their many-armed embrace.

Come to think of it, I don't understand why more cultures don't have tree-gods. Sun gods, I can tell you with great authority as a denizen of central Texas, are highly overrated. Mean, spiteful, infatuated with their own testosterone, selfish, merciless, utterly devoid of creativity--in my pantheon, the sun god would be the jerky one whose cult no one but skinheads wants to join. The rain goddess, of course, would be the benficent all-mother, bringing life-restoring coolness and moisture to her parched children. And her husbands would all be tree-gods--sagacious, long-lived, benevolent, temperate, generous, strong, and beautiful.

And you know what makes me sad/happy about these trees? These are something money can't buy. Obviously, you can buy property that contains ancient live oaks, but if you want an alley of massive oaks to line the driveway of your McMansion, you're out of luck. You can plant oaks, of course, and in a few decades you should have some very nice trees, but no amount of money or privilege or influence or biotechnology or microwave rays can manufacture an ancient oak. There is no way to bend them to our convenience. There is no way to fake it with plastics or growth hormones. Oaks are essentially and utterly and immovably themselves, and we can either accommodate ourselves to them or else do without. Time confers authenticity and meaningfulness, which is, in a way, the oak's special gift.

Believe it or not, this is actually an abridged selection of the pictures I snapped. I really, really love these trees.

My idea of these two oaks is inextricably bound to my idea of my mother's family. They are a Louisiana family, for one thing, and these are very Louisianian trees. And it's a fairly large family--Mom was one of five children, and I'm the eldest of 10 grandchildren. Like the trees, the family stretches in a lot of different directions--I've always found them to be a fascinating collection of very different personalities. And my grandmother's house and these trees are something I come back to once or twice year almost every year--where so many things stay they same, but where over the years I can chart tiny, incremental changes. The smell of Granny Babe's pantry is the same after all these years. The morning rituals of strong coffee and chat around the kitchen table. Granny watching football while she cooks. The joking and teasing that always start when the family gathers together. The carpet and wall colors that have been unchanged my entire life. The ticking of the dining room clock. The little crucifixes hanging over all the door ways. The porch swing I loved to swing on. The cologne my grandfather used to wear. His big, heart laugh and the peculiar way he'd press his lips together and dismissively examine his fingernails to express disapproval. The way Granny can never wrap her head around the foods my brother and I don't eat. ("What?! You don't like hoghead cheese? You don't eat oysters?!")

And then there are the things that do change. Granny's hair getting greyer and greyer. The trees getting wider and wider. Daddy-O passing away. And the changes in me--from the eldest and most solitary grandchild to a married grownup lady sitting at the grownup table. A little girl streaking naked down the long hall, a bigger girl running and sliding in her socks down the wooden floor of that hall, a sulky teenager reading novels on the porch. Going back is always an exploration. Have I changed? Have they? Or is it just my perception of them that is different? I love this combination of change and sameness----it's like re-reading a book you've read 20 times since you were a child. Every time I visit I feel a comforting sense of continuity, a gentle awareness of loss, and a surprising rediscovery of bits of myself I had forgotten.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What great pictures of the Ozio oak trees and my mom's front yard, Mel! I also enjoyed reading your comments and reflections on visits to Morgan City. Thanks for including David and me in the celebration for your mom this past weekend. We enjoyed the event and our visit with you all.
Aunt Pauline

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