"... then just look for the two big white trees in the front yard. You can't miss it."
That's how directions to our house always end. Works every time. If those two white birch trees out front ever die, I'm in big trouble.
According to the experts, the 50-odd-year-old trees should have bitten the dust a long time ago. They've had a variety of borers, several large limbs broke off in the big ice storm of 2006, and Japanese beetles think their leaves are sushi. But the trees are hanging in there.
It's funny how trees seem to define certain times in your life.
The white birches are in 47 percent of the photos we took of the boys growing up. Here they are with their Easter baskets in 1989, all dressed up in their church clothes. They found a couple of those Easter eggs in the crook of the trees' multiple trunks.
Here's a 6-year-old swinging a white birch stick at a donkey pinata hanging from the lowest branch.
Here's a tweenager, who just decided he was too old to trick or treat, perched on a tree limb ready to swing down and scare the trick-or-treaters.
Here's the teenager, looking quite the young man in a suit and tie, with his first prom date in front of the white tree. My, how he and the white birch have grown.
Here he is waving goodbye in front of the big white tree, the moving van in the background packed with all his earthly belongings, ready to take off for his first job in Seattle.
See what I mean?
My earliest outlook on life was through the branches of a persimmon tree. It was growing in our front yard in Highland, just outside the window of my upstairs room. In the spring, I had a bird's-eye view of mama bird feeding her babies in the nest. I had names for the squirrels that peeked in my window. Once, Sammy came in through a tear in the screen. He bounded around the room more scared than I was. Pop had to come and unlatch the screen. When we left, Sammy made a bee-line for it.
The persimmon tree was first-base in my porch-ball games. It was safe home for Olly, Olly Oxen Free. It's where the bad guys tied up the good guys (and vice versa) in games of Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians. Once, we moved on to another game and left Sis tied to the persimmon tree. She still doesn't believe it was an accident.
Most of my friends had never eaten a persimmon. When they are ripe, they are fantastic. Like eating candy. But when they aren't, look out. They make you pucker up like a fish. The taste stays with you for days. It was a fun trick to play on somebody as long as he didn't mind taking one right in the kisser.
For a couple weeks when all the overripe persimmons fell off, they made a heck of a mess on the sidewalks. It was my job to scrape up the slimy mess. Maybe it was payback for leaving Sis tied up.
My favorite tree was the buckeye in Mrs. Spencer's yard next door. Its main purpose was to keep long balls hit to right field from smacking into Mrs. Spencer's house. It had beautiful pink and yellow flowers in the spring, which were magnets for those big black and yellow bees. We kept our distance then. But later, when the buckeyes came, it was our hangout.
Buckeyes look like dark brown eyeballs with tan pupils. When they break out of their shells and fall to the ground, it's raining buckeyes.
We collected buckeyes. Polished them. Traded them. Dissected them. Sometimes, we had buckeye wars and threw them at each other. Ouch! But we got in trouble for that. So we picked out things around the yard for target practice.
We used buckeyes for cash when we played stores. We played marbles with them and put them down each other's backs. They made the best snowman eyes. Kevin could fit five of them in his mouth at a time. A 12th Street and -- unofficially -- a world record.
I always had a drawer full of buckeyes in my room just in case ...
Buckeyes were our kryptonite since we couldn't find any real kryptonite in our neighborhood.
"What's wrong?" Mrs. Spencer said to the three dish-towel-caped crusaders crumpled in a heap in her yard. I raised a weak finger and pointed to a buckeye in the grass. She picked it up, inspected it and slipped it in her dress pocket.
The Supermen sprang to their feet, again ready to defend truth, justice and the American way.
Where would the world be without buckeye trees?