I was not a tree climber as a small child. Terribly fearful about anything that did not have stairs or a railing; I ended up, as timid kids sometimes do in spite of history and reputation, trying something. After several half-hearted attempts to scale our apple tree, I got “umph” enough to elevate myself into its basecamp – the lowest necessary spot to begin any ascent.
Not sure how I got situated the way I did, with my left thigh wedged tight where the trunk split into a V. I found that I could not leverage with my right foot to push out or up and I wasn’t able to pull free with my arms, either. Bare-legged, the pinch of the tree began to hurt. Firmly stuck, I started calling out for my mother. Looking at the kitchen window, I willed her to see me.
It must have been early spring because the grass was dead and there were no leaves on the trees. Cloudy and cool, but not muddy. My mother was inside while I played in the yard by myself. Older siblings were at school. Ours was an old farmhouse with a long, white barn in the back. It sat in the middle of town on a big lot, seemingly made for hide-and-go-seek and ball throwing. A long gravel drive cut up the middle with the yard opposite the house perfect for pretending and investigations. There was a rarely pruned apple tree in the middle. About three feet up, its trunk split into a V. A cove of tall bushes and large old trees ran along the lot’s border. A tire swing and burning barrel sat in the back corner, furthest from the street. The neighbor’s driveway beyond was a dead-end, no-longer used crumbling street. Cottage-like homes followed up the block, weathered and leaning, like old teeth.
Two kids lived on the other side of our next-door neighbor. The girl, who was two year’s younger and had a boogery-hard-to-look-at baby brother, would often get loose and come into our yard to play. This morning, she must have heard me yelling and stepped just inside the lot and stared. I begged her, “Please get my mother!!” Normally a pest, she instead turned and ran away. Leg pain gave way to numbness. Looking at my house, I realized that the storm windows were on. It was early yet and my dad hadn't unlatched the heavy, wooden-frames and stored them in the barn. My mother could not hear me.
I kept calling out and, at some point, she looked for me. As she crossed over the driveway, I tried to tell her about deciding to climb, getting stuck, and the stinky neighbor girl. My memory has no sound, though. I remember breathing hard and can clearly see my mother’s expression: blank. In her recountings, she said it looked just like I was wearing black tights. Reaching the tree, she put her hands firmly under my armpits and yanked upward. Clasping me to her chest, she marched briskly inside to the davenport.
My mother did not say much during this incident. Also a nurse, she was trained to stay calm and did. After a bit, my leg began to tingle and lighten and I skipped around, probably rewarded with a glass of pop and TV all to myself. And she had one of those private, terrible episodes mothers have after barely avoiding a self-inflicted tragedy.