Sunday, May 04, 2008
My Gramma's Dead Dogwood
There is a Christian legend of unknown origin that proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood. As the story goes, during the time of Jesus, the dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today and was the largest tree in the area of Jerusalem. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches to assure an end to its use for the construction of crosses. He also transformed its inflorescence into a representation of the crucifixion itself, with the four white bracts cross-shaped, which represent the four corners of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail and the red stamens of the flower, represents Jesus' crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit represent his blood.
However, Like the "The Cherry-Tree Carol", it is unlikely to have any factual bases because the modern dogwood is typically too small and twisted in trunk and branch for such a task as cross construction, although the point of the story is that it isn't good for cross construction anymore. (Wikepedia)
My gramma was impossible to buy for. Truly she was. When gift-giving occasions drew near, my mom, sister and I would race to Hudson's to buy her a box of Godiva chocolates. This was the gift with the greatest probability to please her. She had very specific taste, generally high end. She was not frivolous so costume jewelry and the like (which thrill me) did not amuse her. Being, shall we say, blunt (glad I'm not); she didn't mind pointing out what any individual gift lacked. She might even hand it back to you.
So a few years back, my mom and my Uncle Bob purchased my gramma a dogwood tree for her yard. Its delicate flowers sure to please her delicate sensibilities. A tree is anything but frivolous and it would adorn her yard and give her years of pleasure. And she liked it! After that we all wanted to buy her trees for holidays but how many trees could she really use? Drat!
As my gramma grew older and so did I, I became less aware of her yard and more aware of her decline and I didn't take much notice of the dogwood. Then this year, after my gramma passed, my mom and I were walking down the drive when she said that the dogwood was surely dead. It was gray and dry looking. Even as the rest of the yard was returning to life, it stood in place with no growth and no signs of life. I am not sure when it stopped leafing out. Probably a few years back. But this year, my mom proclaimed it dead and I seconded the motion. After a thoughts of cutting it down and wondering if I should plant something else there, I decided to leave it. There is a slab of cement right in front of it where my grampa's birdbath always sat. I decided I'd put a birdbath there again and that I'd hang a few bird feeders from its dead gray branches. I thought it would be kind of pretty.
Then on Saturday morning I noticed what might appear to be grayish green buds at the tips of the branches. I took a bit of a closer look but being not so much a yard person and lacking my grandparents' expertise, I didn't know if this was new growth or old buds that never made it during the tree's last season. The rain fell much of Saturday afternoon. Glancing out the window to see what Donny was up to, the dogwood danced in the corner of my eye. Pale green, pink and white pushing from the gray branches of the dead dogwood.
I took some pictures to send to my mom and put in the subject line, "gramma's dead dogwood." I picture her crying as she looks at the delicate little tree she and her brother hoped would please their aging mother. The tree that she pronounced dead with the sigh that defines the way she talks out loud about cleaning out the house, remembering the times we spent there and knowing that it is time to move forward.
I wrote to my mom that even if the dead dogwood only blooms for one more season, it is enough for me. My mom and I have relived my gramma's decline and how sad it made us to see her so sick. How it was a reason to celebrate to know that she is whole.
The dead dogwood may or may not be a miracle. Maybe my mom was wrong. Maybe it bloomed the same way last year or maybe it hasn't bloomed in five years. I really don't know. What I do know is that when I glanced out my gramma's bedroom window I saw the same beautiful delicate tree that she saw. And I laughed out loud as I grabbed my camera.
I cried when I took the pictures. But somewhere in heaven, I am sure my gramma was giggling.
Why should I be so surprised at life pushing through death?