Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Roots

One day in late summer, I drove Ricka to one of Lake Calhoun’s beaches for a high school volleyball event. Instead of scurrying off for errands, I decided to savor the lake until she was done. The wait coaxed me into smell-the-roses mode, so I set out to log some steps on my pedometer.

I strode at a brisk clip, rounding the east side of Lake Calhoun. The promise of school had leaked into summer, staining its last weeks with a melancholy wash of responsibility and duty. Late August’s slanted light pierced the day; the wind had gotten the memo too, and hinted at September as it fluttered me along.

The trees lining the path around the lake reminded me of Dad, a conservationist, who during his lifetime planted over 50,000 trees in northern Minnesota. But Lake Calhoun’s trees were old, sturdy pillars—far from the tender poles I had watched Dad plant when I was young.

As I spanned the north side of the lake, one tree captured my attention. Something had eroded its base, wearing away its dirt and exposing its roots. But the tree—still stout and strong—stood its ground, drawing its nourishment from somewhere deep.

Living life with the roots showing.

 

My octogenarian neighbor Charlie had known hardship in life—and in the neighborhood. On several occasions, someone stole his car, and each time, his staid response rattled me.

“Those people don’t know any better.” His body was worn, and compassion seeped through his words.

I scowled and shook my head. “Shame on them for making your life hard, Charlie.”

“Bless your heart.” Then his pointer finger wobbled in the air. “But it’ll be okay.”

Not satisfied, I crossed my arms. “I hope the cops find them. Horrible people.”

But no leaves of malice grew on Charlie’s tree, and little by little, his roots began to show.

 

Dad’s cancer years washed away the superficial dirt of his busy life. And damaged bone marrow eroded his obsession with punctuality and precision, performance and productivity.

“You can’t ask for better kids.” Decision shored up Dad’s words. He adjusted himself in the hospital bed, the yellowed whites of his eyes another sign of the deterioration at work in his body. “They’re just right, those girls of yours.”

“I know, Dad,” I said, still striving, because life hadn’t swept away my soil yet.

Patience mottled the leaves on Dad’s tree, and his now visible roots reached deeper.

 

For years, I watched from a distance as my friend Evie’s marriage eroded. Her husband chipped away at her sanity, persuading her she was incompetent. At last, she learned she lived in a house of secrets, and her skin erupted in hives. Worry for her children’s safety pummeled her peace. The miles between us sickened me, but I couldn’t have fixed her life even if she had lived next door.

During our frequent phone calls, I paced the living room.

“Prison would be too good for him,” I said, clenching the phone in my hand. I kept my voice low; my own little ones played in the other room.

“There’s a lesson for us in this somehow.” Evie’s voice quavered on the other end of the line. “I’m just waiting to find out what.”

Before her marriage dissolved, one crisis after another crashed in like waves, wearing Evie away. I thought she would disappear altogether, but then I saw her roots, and they twisted—strong and resilient—down deep.

 

Battered by racism, crime, and finally illness, Charlie’s roots grounded him and showed the rest of us the anchored life. As Dad stood at the end of his days, the mundane sloshed away, and his roots pointed to the Source. And Evie’s life—running deeper than her circumstances—tapped into the Living Water, and she stood firm.

 

He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.


*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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