An old man walks slowly between the two old maple trees; he looks up and admires them fondly. He uses an old-fashioned aluminum folding chair as a cane and continues until he unfolds it and sits down between two significantly younger oak trees. He smiles as he looks out, out onto his backyard.
The slightly, perhaps only noticeable to him, worn out spots in the grass are the most telling. The spot where the playset was, brand new once, now the tired boards barely support an ancient-looking tree house; the spot where he used to hit balls and catch pitches with the boys, worn year after year, nearly making it back, then spring, and hope, always began to wear it down again; another worn spot, a slight ditch in all honesty, once a trench muddy, bracken filled, a siren song to six year old boys.
Yes, yes, he is the only one who sees those places, he knows that, but still his eyes seek them out, and he sees once again the summer's of their youth. 'You could hear them running, and feel them screaming,' he always said. Now, there they are again, forever young, happy. The melancholy nearly overwhelms him. He leans back and tilts his head skyward. He is tired...
Two younger men are approaching, one darker, balding, somehow dignified, the other, blond, fair, his manner is carefree. Anyone watching them would know they were brothers, leaning in to one another just that little bit too far to be just friends. Touching, smiling, comfortable.
Anyone watching might also guess that they, too, can see the ghosts in the back yard that the old man had just been conjuring. They both look up at the tree-house, at the spot where they had swung away more than a few summer evenings. They both look at the spot where Dad had stood all those years hitting balls, making up a silly play-by-play, encouraging them, advising them, teasing them.
The old man can now hear them talking:
"...and you fell out and landed in the molehills perfectly, not even a bruise, from that high up. Oh man, we laughed so hard." The fair one says.
"We were probably just relieved that we didn't have to tell Dad." The darker one.
"Tell Dad what?" The old man still is leaning back, looking into the brown-green of the oak leaves. The same color of his eyes, the father is thinking.
"Oh nothing, something we didn't tell you about at the time," the fair one says with a twinkle in his ever-sparkling eyes. The color of the sky where it meets that leaf right there, the father thinks this time. "You hate that."
"I did. Now?... I don't really care. I've got too much to remember as it is," he responds.
"What are you looking at?"
"These two fine-looking trees, but mostly I'm thinking." The years roll back as the man leans forward. The men turn into the boys they once were. They wait, hoping for a story, hoping as all boys do, as all men always will, for a glimpse back to their so easily forgotten childhood.
"When you were in first grade you brought these guys home," he gestures to his left, where the darker son is sitting, "that one was yours, and the one you are picking at was yours." He looks into the eyes of the fairer son, "Yours didn't do so well at first."
"For some reason I fell in love with those two little trees. I mean, they were as scraggly-assed a tree as you ever saw. Just stuck in a plastic bag, a wet paper towel around the roots, beat to death on the school bus... But, you were determined to plant them. Well, I said alright, and we went out and found this spot for them.
"You know what used to be here? The reason they ended up here?"
The boys both shake their heads, trying to remember.
"Well first I planted a rose garden here, I think it was the first summer we were married. I'd promised your mother in a song once that I grow her 'rows of roses touched by morning dew' so I was..."
"In the song you wrote to ask her to marry you, right?" The fairer one, the romantic, asks.
"I still have that song, my kids love it," the quiet one says.
"Quit interrupting. So I planted a nice rose garden, and it did well for a couple years. But, it floundered and then pretty much just ended up dying altogether. I never really knew why, I always thought maybe too much sun or the aphids.... I do now, though." The boys both take a slight breath, readying themselves to interrupt.
"I said quit interrupting. I had bordered the rose garden with pressure-treated two-by-sixes so I figured I could grow a tomato garden in the same spot. That didn't really work, I mean, it went gangbusters for a couple years then it started not doing so well, I guess that was after you guys were born, so I finally gave up. I had failed, of course, but, I'd tried as well, I never cared much about that.
"I suppose it was maybe two or three years later I gave up on the gardening thing and moved the boards over there, around the mulch pile." He points to a derelict shed he's never had the heart to dismantle and a pile of leaves and clipping which has been added to for decades now.
"You guys used to come back here with shovels and bare hands and dig holes and ditches and tunnels in the old weeds of the garden, so, I never really tried to reclaim it back into good yard."
"Pig stew," the excitable boy shouts.
"Oh yeah, pig stew," the other one laughs.
The memory blows against the old man, palpable, it seems like just today they were digging in a mud puddle, adding anything they could find into it, and calling it 'pig stew.'
"I always thought it needed meat, but what do I know." The man continues his story. "So when you guys came home with these sticks, I didn't even know what kind of trees they were at the time, I thought we could plant them in the area of those old gardens. I figured the ground would be a little softer there and the digging a little easier. And I'd already shed enough love, tears and sweat into that dirt for a couple of little trees to grow. You dug your holes and I showed you how to plant the saplings. We got them in real good as I recall. We watered them and, secretly, I said a prayer over them; I so didn't want you to be disappointed.
"And they did grow, but, twice that one there," he points to the shorter of the two trees, "Yours, Nick, well, it lost its leaves to the wind or a critter or something, and twice it came back with new leaves. Twice. I guess you guys don't know how I worried about these stupid trees. For years I never really understood why. Why did I water them, carrying buckets from the house? Why did I feed them, and mow around them so carefully, mulch around them, and fuss over them? I did it for years until they were finally established, coming out in the winter snow to be sure they weren't bent over. Making sure they weren't drowning in 'pig stew.' And I still water them now when it's been too dry and feed them occasionally."
"Why do you suppose that is, Dad?"
"Well, Zack, I didn't know until right now. I am eighty-eight years old. You two together are my age. Memory is fickle as you get older, sort of sporadic, jumbled, but, thinking about these two trees, it all seems so clear, so real, so... recent. I guess it brings a lot back, that summer, camping, Kings Island, lakes... and it was so hot. That was summer you decided you might like to be a pilot, and look at you now, flying everywhere, and so happy. That's the summer Nick, you were afraid of the world never ending, afraid that time would go on forever. I think it's the summer you started on your PhD. I guess I been tending these trees so tenderly because I needed this memory right here and now. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah, Dad, it does..."
"You know there's a picture or two of these trees that first summer, somewhere." The old man is tired, emotional.
"Let's get you back to the house, Dad," Nick says.
"That's what Mom sent us to do a half hour ago," Zack says helping the man up. "I remember seeing those pictures somewhere, Dad."
Together they head out from under the twin oaks, each brother on an arm, still boys, they walk under the ancient maples, across the ball-field of their youth, onto the screened-in porch, men now.
"Your blog Dad, remember, 'ihopeiwinatoaster,' I think there are pictures on it there."
"Maybe," the old man says, a whisper of a tear in his voice, "I hope so..."