When I was a child, around nine or so, living down
in Alabama, there was a big old weeping willow in
our backyard. The branches were so long that the children
called them “arms.”
My oldest brother, Matthew, called the
tree Old Willa.
Now, Old Willa had been standing in back of our farm
before Uncle Love Joy—my great-great-uncle and
your great-great-great-uncle—was born.
My momma and poppa were married under that
would have family gatherings, picnics, and good-time
parties near Old Willa. Some folks thought the tree had mystical powers.
Miss Sally Mae, a root doctor, would come
by every now and then and rub Old Willa’s trunk. It was an interesting sight. She would talk to Old Willa and rub right in
the middle of its trunk as if she were rubbing
Sometimes Poppa would gather me, my sisters, and my
brothers around Old Willa.
Poppa was a storyteller, and he would
tell us about Uncle Love Joy. One night Uncle Love Joy escaped from the plantation,
which was a few miles away from the farm. He could hear the dogs and the slave catchers on horses gaining
on him. He
ran like the devil. He didn’t know which direction to run, but
he could hear something or someone whispering
to him, “Come, come.” So he ran in the path of the whispering.
He ran until he bumped his head right into
that weeping willow tree.
So he hid behind it.
Those dogs took another trail.
Uncle Love Joy thanked that tree. Twenty years later he came back with his wife
and children and his brothers and sisters. They bought the land with the tree on it and built the farm.
We had some fun times beneath Old Willa—but one day
it all came to an end.
The city developers came through and said
that Old Willa had to be cut down because the
tree was standing in the way of progress.
Our farm and property were condemned by
the city. The highways were coming through.
The workers cut Old Willa down. They poured heaps of salt on its trunk so it
wouldn’t grow back.
My momma was sad after that.
You might say she never got over it.
Poppa gathered the family around what was left of Old
said a prayer. We held hands and sang softly. Momma began weeping and she cried out: “Old
Willa was a love tree, and the tree of love gives
shade to all. No matter where you go, children, or what you
do, you find a tree and give it a big hug.
It doesn’t matter what kind of tree it
is. It can be a sycamore, maple elm, oak, birch…”