TITLE: The Branch
By Marylea Monroe
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By Marylea Monroe (Meg)
September 2, 2006
The spring before my fifth birthday we moved to #32 Byron Street, Worcester, MA. We only lived there for about one year, but some of my fondest childhood memories occurred during that year.
We lived in a red, shingled, two family house. It seems to me that more than one other family moved in the upstairs apartment while we lived there. One of those families had five kids, I remember them the best. Although we were inside the city limits it seemed like we were in the country. Of course this was back in 1951. The house was surrounded on three sides by fields and the street in front. Across the street there was another field, then railroad tracks, and on the other side of the tracks, woods. It was a good place for kids. Mummy used to take my older brother Alfred and I over to the woods in the spring and summer to pick berries. Oh, how we loved that.
The yard to the left side of the house was large and Daddy would keep it mowed, so it was a wonderful place for play. We always referred to it as the front yard, even though it was on the side of the house. At the far end was a big hill, we could climb up; it was perfect for sledding in the winter and cardboard sledding the rest of the year. I don’t know how we made that cardboard slide like it did, but it seemed to go down that hill almost as fast on grass as a sled on snow. On the other side of the front yard was a long, long field. From early spring through fall, the grass would grow taller than us kids, at least us little ones. We would run and frolic, roll around, hide, and crawl though the grass for hours. Day after day we would amuse ourselves with games of pretense, adventure, and hidden dangers. About halfway across the field was a small natural spring. Many happy and venturesome hours were spent there, building dams and floating all sorts of sea worthy vessels. Some had originally been scrapes of wood, glass bottles, branches, and many other materials worthy of our craftsmanship. In the summer we were allowed to wear our bathing suits and wade in the spring. In another section of the field was small cluster of trees were two or three black raspberry bushes. In the summer I would feast on them and so would my dollies. One of them I could really feed and I did. She enjoyed those black raspberries as much as I enjoyed feeding them to her. One day as I walked through the house with her, mummy asked why she smelled so bad. The berries went in but there know was know way for them to come out. That was the last of that dolly.
To the right of the house was what we called the backyard; it had several apple trees in it. That was one of my favorite places to play. The five kids who lived upstairs liked to play there too. The oldest girl Charlotte was always bossing the younger ones around, but she was ok. She didn’t laugh much; most of her time was spent taking of her four younger bothers and sisters. Mummy said she was too young to take care of them so much of the time. The two boys Jason and Timmy, I like the best, but they were both a couple of years older than me and preferred to hangout with Brother. Everyone else called him butch, or Al but he was always Brother to me. Jane and Peggy were about my age, so we played together much of the time. Most of our playtime was spent getting into some kind of childish trouble. I wasn’t the leader, but I was a very willing follower.
On this one particular day we were all in the back yard except for Brother. We were playing games and climbing the apple trees. It must have been in the fall. I can remember that the trees were full of apples, so was the ground. The smell of apples was in the air. As we ran and played we would step on those that were brown and mushy, we could hear them spurting out from under our feet. They sounded like a ketchup bottle that is just about empty and someone tires to get that last squeeze out. Charlotte climbed up one of the trees and teased that I wasn’t big enough to go as high as she had. I can still hear her chanting over and over again. “Mary’s just a ba-bee, ba-bee ba-bee. She’s afraid to climb as high as me-ee.”
Charlotte was always reminding me in some unpleasant way that I was the youngest of this select group of cohorts. Then the others started. “Mary’s just a baby. Mary’s jus a baby.”
They got louder and louder. The louder their voices grew the more upset I became. I shouted back at them, doing my utmost not to cry and prove that I was a baby.
I shouted, “No I’m not! I’ll show you, I can climb just as high as Charlotte, maybe even higher.” A little cockiness might show them how tough I was. It might even convince me.
As small as I was I knew I had to climb or I would cry. As Charlotte came down I was hoping that she would retract her challenge. I had never gone that high before, and this was not the day that I wanted to break any records, but my hope was soon smashed by Charlotte’s words. Before her feet even hit the ground her words pierced my ears. “Lets see what the ba-bee can do-oo.” Then with both feet planted firmly on the ground and starring right through my eyes into my soul she taunted me using that drill sergeant voice of hers. “Are you going to stand there and cry, or climb? How high can the baby climb? Not as high as me-ee. Not as high as me-ee. Climb ba-bee climb, climb ba-bee climb.”
The others joined in with the same singsong words. “Climb ba-bee climb, climb ba-bee climb.” I wanted to run to safety, to mummy. But I was too stubborn for that. As small as I was I knew I had to climb or I would cry. Charlotte stood at the bottom of the tree, as I hoisted myself up. At first I was all right I had climbed this high before. Then came the dividing line, I hesitated, and they sang. “Mary’s just a ba-bee. Mary’s just a ba-bee.” It hurt. I didn’t want to cry, but I show them. I might be the youngest but I wasn’t a baby. I don’t remember saying anything, just mustering up the nerve to reach and stretch for the next branch, and the next, and the next. With each one it was harder. They were further apart and I had to stretch until I could feel my skin become so tight that I thought it would tear apart. But all my work paid off. I made it. I was as high as Charlotte had gone. Being the youngest wasn’t so bad after all, at least not this time. I showed them what a ba-bee could do. I got cocky again. Stuck my tongue out and said, “see I told you I’m not a baby.” As I looked down the four younger ones were standing back away from the tree. I could their faces. Each face held a smile and their eyes were wide with surprise. The smiles and their voices told me that they were proud of me as they shouted, “Mary did it. Mary did it.” This time their voices bought forth praises instead of insults. They made me feel proud instead of angry, like laughing instead of crying.
Then I looked strait down at Charlotte, she hadn’t budged an inch. To my surprise she was smiling and gave me her own words of approval. “You did it! You did it!” But with those words an awful could feel the tears welling up in my eyes I going to cry. Then I surprised myself. I got mad. Madder than I had ever been in all of my five years. I’d truth set in. Looking at Charlotte, my eyes starring straight down at her, suddenly I realized for the first time just how high I was. It sure looked a lot further down from where I was, that it had when I was on the ground looking up. No longer was I cocky or confident. The reality was that I as up this tree and I had to get down. Inside I knew that this was not going to be an easy task. I decided to stay put for a few minutes pretending to be enjoying the sights from so high.
Charlotte’s voice broke into my thoughts and pretense; she was back to her old self again giving orders, sounding bossy. “Mary you’d better come down now, we got-ta go in.”
At the thought of them going in and leaving me there all alone I fearfully but obediently started down. I didn’t like this. I couldn’t see where I was going, where to put my feet. Looking down between the branches and leaves for the next branch was impossible. It wasn’t at all like looking up. I lowered my right foot and felt for the branch. Relief. There it was. Then I lowered my left foot. Oh no, where’s the branch, there it is, everything’s ok. Just on more branch to go and I would be on the lower half of the tree where I felt confident about climbing. I could turn around and go down frontward. It wasn’t the easiest way to descend from a tree but it was my method of descent.
I lowered my right leg. I couldn’t find the branch. I pulled it back up. Charlotte saw what I did, she I was in trouble, she could see it was harder for me to come down it was to go up. She started coaxing me, but not in that bossy tone of hers. This was different and it frightened me because she sounded scared. Her voice seemed to vibrate as she said, “Mary try to reach the branch, I know you can do it, I’ll tell you where to put your foot.”
I lowered my right leg one more time and followed Charlotte’s directions. The fear was growing. Oh where’s the branch, why can’t I reach it. My leg was to short. No it was my arm if only my arm if only my arms were longer I could lower myself further. At last I felt the branch with the toe of my shoe. I started to let go of the upper branch with my right hand, then, it all happened at once. In one split second, my feeling of safety was gone and my life was changed forever. Oh that horrible snapping noise, the branch made as it separated itself from its source of life. My stomach met my heart and my heart was in my throat. I was going to throw up I just knew it, but I didn’t. I clamped my teeth together and closed my eyes. That’s when I experienced the worst sensation of my life. I could feel my body falling, going down, down, down, but never touching bottom. Yet, I knew that I was still in the tree. I couldn’t look down, I couldn’t turn around, it was the sickest feeling I every experienced. Some how I had managed to jerk myself high enough to grab the upper branch once again. Between the drop down and the jerk up, the inside of my knee and upper leg scrapped against the dark brown, rough bark of the tree. Burning pain and reality set in. My fear rose to a level I could not control. I had no palce to rest my leg; as much as it hurt I wrapped it around the tree. I opened my eyes. Tears were streaming down my face, hurt, in body and pride I held on.
What do I do now? If only I could turn around and see where I was going, but I couldn’t. What I could see would have normally brought comfort, but not then. Small blue and white patches of the sky through leaves almost ready to change colors. Branches full of and weighed down with red apples. Our house, the clothesline where mummy would hang out the freshly washed clothes on was day. Today it was empty. The fields and hill that bought so many hours of happiness, none of these bought any comfort now.
I could hear Charlotte’s voice again, now what? Who was she talking to? Why did her voice sound so far away? I was getting sick again, my stomach felt like it was tying it self into knots, it wrenched and at that moment I could have sworn that one of those brown mushy apples was in my throat. I was going to throw up I just knew it. I clinched my teeth tighter. Everything started looking funny, the house and the other trees where going around me. I closed my eyes again. Who was that telling me to hang on? I opened my eyes. Just little at first nothing was moving. Then a little more, still no movement. Now all the way, nothing moved, at least nothing on the outside of me except the tears streaming down my face.
Charlotte tried to help. She climbed up the tree after me, but I couldn’t trust her. She reluctantly climbed down. To sacred to look down, fully aware of the tears, and no longer caring what names they called me, I cried. I wanted my mummy. I kept crying. I tried to tell them, all of them, any one of them, to go and get my mummy. No one moved. Can’t they understand me? Charlotte kept coaxing me, I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. I was glued to the tree. Finally, I could trust my stomach enough to shout at them, “Get my mummy. I want my mummy. Please go get my mummy.” Still no one moved. I started shouting for her myself, knowing that she couldn’t hear me. “Mum-mee. Mum-mee, please, mummy come and get me. I’m scared. I cant’ get down. Oh mummy please, please mummy.”
Finally one of the boys went to get her. I don’t ever remember seeing my mother before but as ran around the corner of the read house the most wonder feeling of safety come over me. The fear left. My mummy was there she could do what needed to be done. I don’t think she had ever climbed a tree before that day, or sense, but up she came. If she hesitated I didn’t notice it. For me comfort and safety had arrived. The tears stopped before she got me down. Her face showed her heart, feelings of fear, love and assurance, the things that a child in trouble needs to see on their mother’s face. That is what erased my fears that day. Just a few brief seconds it took her to get to the tree. Slowly she started up the tree, reassuring me over and over again that everything would be all right. Encouraging me to hang on to listen and do exactly what she would tell me. It was only seconds before I felt her fingers touching my right leg. Then she encouraged me to let her hand and arm become the branch that I was in need of in order to reach safety. I could do that. I could trust mummy. No longer did I have to see where I was going, at least not that day.
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