The Persimmon Tree Outside My Bedroom Window
Not so long ago, the woman who was going to marry my brother called me, out of the blue. Not really a surprise because it was close to the anniversary of the day her fiancé, my brother, dropped dead from nothing. Nothing we could explain then but maybe a genetic flaw, maybe his heart, or maybe an aneurism that killed our father when we were young. There was nothing to explain the suddenness. It was three months before the wedding. The invitations were freshly printed and waiting.
It had been years since I talked to her and one or two since we stopped sending the simple holiday greeting card.
We caught up on the news of her children, the ones she adopted when she couldn't conceive with her husband now. I wondered—had her grief smothered her once fertile eggs? How long did they try? She had been a first-grade teacher for so long that when she started her own family, her students were graduating from college. Did her eggs dry up? At the time of her call she was home schooling her two children in the old fieldstone farmhouse that she had rebuilt with her father. Her family was close. They had held her up through the unbearable hardships.
The house before that was an old run down Victorian on a small two lane country road in Bedminster, in northeast Pennsylvania. Bedminster was in the neighborhood of other village intersections: Ottsville, Gardenville, Reigelsville. The Victorian house she restored with my brother—matching dormers and gates, wrought iron and stained glass. It took them years, working hard to keep it authentic right down to the details of doorknobs and drainpipes. The back yard was bordered with peonies, day lilies and hydrangeas. And as far as you could see, acres and acres of cornfields in summer, plowed flat in winter. That was where the wedding would have been.
I was sitting in my blue reading chair when I got her call. I was looking at the persimmon tree outside my bedroom window when she said, "I'm sending you the wedding rings. After all, they belong to you. Your grandmother gave them to you. They're not mine anymore."
I couldn't argue with her. The rings were reminders of a tragedy she was long overdue to put behind her.
"It's coming on twenty-five years," I said.
I got a chill. That little chill that saves itself for moments you'll always remember. I was sitting in the same blue chair at my bedroom window, looking east where I often take my calls for long distance friends on the other coast. The only difference that day from the one so many years before, when I offered my brother the rings was the persimmon tree. The tree that looks like a Japanese woodcut with its enormous green leaves and setting fruit in August. It was a gift I planted in memory of my brother 2twenty-five years ago.
I planted three trees that year. I planted a purple lilacas a reminder of my home in Pennsylvania. Though it doesn't belong here in California, every winter I fooled it by feeding it ice cubes to stimulate a winter's chill. Another tree, a coral bark Japanese maple, I planted for its shade in summer and its deciduous beauty in winter. When the delicate golden leaves have dropped, they reveal a smooth red bark that has over a hundred seasons, accumulated ornaments of grey green lichens. It's a reminder, a marker of the time gone by. So too is the fruit bearing mature persimmon tree. I once heard that persimmons are planted for posterity.
"I have some news," he'd said, "I'm going to ask Beth to marry me."
"You're kidding me, right? What are you, like going to get down on your knees and propose? Really?"
"I want to have a big wedding too. I think it's time for a party, get everybody together, something fun for a change, you know what I mean?"
I did know. The only time the 'everyone' that we knew got together was for memorial services, funerals and wakes. Our town was small. The same everyones were always there for a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, rides to the cemetery. They made the 'calls,' the casseroles and signed the sympathy cards. They deserved a party for once, a wedding party.
Yeah, a party, I thought. We'll show them.
"So, have you thought about a ring? She'll expect it," I said.
My brother was always just getting by. He earned a small living as a carpenter's apprentice. He took night classes to finish his degree in biology, and worked on the house with Beth. He had quit college when our mother died, drifted a while and was now attempting to be responsible. He was thirty-one and growing up. I knew he was trying.
I offered him the wedding rings our grandmother had given me. I told him they were perfect, an engagement diamond and a band with a deco design. Vintage, I added, made of platinum, not your typical gold. These rings are special.
I don't know if Beth ever wore the wedding band but for three months and there after I know she wore the diamond. Now, they belong to me again. After twenty-five years, I'll return them to the safe deposit box at the bank and wonder why. Why platinum?
And I'll look it up to find that platinum signifies endurance: the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time.
Kathy Ziccardi likes to write stories about where she came from and where she’s been—the cornfields, the desert, the bay. Her upbringing in the countryside of northeastern Pennsylvania inspired her creativity and love of nature. For over 30 years she has resided in the San Francisco Bay Area making her living as a residential gardener. She is currently writing a memoir about marriage, love and death and going home to rebuild the house she grew up in.