She watched her husband of over 50 years make his way up the grassy hill to join her under the old maple tree they’d called theirs since they first met.
The tree held a prominent position in the park. It was at the highest point with a gentle incline leading to it. When they first started meeting here, while still in their teens, its bark wasn’t quite as gnarled or wrinkled as it is now, and its branches were stronger and not sagging quite as low as they are now. She thought of this and laughed as she realized she might have just described herself as well.
She looked at the man and took in his appearance. After all these years, she still got a lightness of being and small flutter in her heart as she looked at him. This was the man she shared most of her life with; had children with; seen through sickness and health; and most importantly, had liked and loved for as long as she could remember.
She thought of their first meeting. She was 15. She and her mother had had a knock’em down and leave no insult unsaid argument. As mothers and 15 year old daughters were want to do. She stormed out of the house and said she was never coming back. Realizing full well, she had nowhere else to go. She was convinced her mother would call out asking her to come back and all would be well. A strange thing happened. Mom didn’t call her and made no attempt to try and convince her to stay. Now what was she going to do?
She started walking and decided to head down one of the many wooded trails near home. In her youth, children walking alone were never a concern, and venturing into the woods was not an issue. What could possibly happen was the prevailing attitude. The common mantra was “Be home by supper!”
She knew one of the trails led to a hill with a large tree which would offer some shade on this hot summer day. It also offered a view of the town and the countryside. Why hadn’t she picked a cooler day to leave home she wondered?
She reached the tree and saw someone else sitting under it but on the opposite side of her approach. She wasn’t sure if she knew the person but in her surly frame of mind, woe betide the person who wanted to cross her today!
As she got closer, she thought she recognized the old ball cap and the checkered shirt.
She came to the tree and made enough noise the other occupant of that spot turned to see who was there. Secretly she was hoping it was someone else because she still had some fight in her and it needed to come out!
When he saw her, a smile came to his face. They knew each other from school. He was 17 and a senior. He always smiled at her when they passed in the hallway. She knew his name was Chris. She’d asked her friends if anyone knew him. He wasn’t handsome in a Rock Hudson kind of way but he was certainly good looking to her. Unlike a lot of the other seniors, he didn’t play the role, wasn’t a jock, didn’t hang out after school smoking cigarettes with the guys, was very respectful to the teachers, and perhaps a little shy. She was hoping to have the courage to talk to him one day and today appeared to the day.
“Hi Chris. Sorry to interrupt”, although she really wasn’t. “What are you doing here?”
“Hi Ellie.” How did he know her name, she wondered? Then she realized he probably asked someone like she had. She liked being called Ellie better than Elizabeth. It seemed too formal. However, “MOTHER”, was insistent on calling her Elizabeth. “Why can’t that woman do what I want her to do?” she asked herself. Fodder for another argument.
Chris looked at her. He’d been wanting to talk to her for a long time but he was too shy to talk to her in front of the guys or the girls. He didn’t like the idea of them making fun of him because he was talking to one of the less than cool girls in school. Peer pressure was alive and well.
Ellie was viewed as too academic for most of them and a bit of a stick in the mud because she always acted aloof. They had no idea what difficulties turning into a teenager was for most young women. This was her way of coping with becoming a 15 year old and dealing with the issues it involved. Coping implies some form of acknowledgment of the situation but of course, such consciousness was not in the equation.
He liked the fact she was academic. It fit with his own way of thinking. He’d seen her act snarky and less than kind sometimes but he also had a 19 year old sister. He remembered the discussions between his parents when she was 15 and not in ear shot, and they thought he wasn’t, about what a little “bitch” she’d become. Having been the recipient of some of her wrath, he understood.
“What brings you here Ellie? I haven’t seen you here before.”
“I don’t come here very often” she said, dropping her head to look forlornly at the grass beneath her feet.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
She thought about it for a moment and then resignedly dropped to the ground. He sat a couple of feet away and waited. His not saying anything caused her some anxiety. She could be a jerk and say “No” in a loud voice, simply get up and leave, sit there and not say anything, or tell him how she felt. She wasn’t sure she had enough trust in him to spill her inner most feelings. She didn’t know if he’d tell the guys and it would be all around the school the next day. She took a middle course of action and said “Not right now.”
She expected some sort of a verbal response but Chris simply looked at her, nodded his head, and looked at the view from this side of the tree.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“I come here quite a bit. It seems to clear my head. It’s quiet except for the sounds of nature. The sound of the wind moving the leaves, the birds singing, the chipmunks chattering, and the odd crow making itself known. I feel at peace here. Just sit and listen for a few minutes.”
They both sat in silence. Her with her knees bent, arms holding them close to her chest, eyes looking around trying to see the birds and chipmunks he’d talked about. Him sitting with his back to the tree, head tilted back, eyes closed, and his legs stretched straight out in front of him smiling ever so slightly.
Now so many years later, what she thought was a school girl crush, was the realization she started to like him that day. As she got older, the “like” never left and the love came to live beside it.
To be continued…