Just last week, I took this picture at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The photo I photographed is mother and child, beside the child's coffin tree. In the Chinese village where the original photo was taken, the tradition is to choose such a tree at a child's birth. When the child grows into old age, she will order the tree to be cut down, carved and hewn, made ready for her eventual burial.
One week later, I learn that my gardening grandmother has need of such a tree. A few months short of her 95th birthday, she leaves me to remember her. So, I do, with this small excerpt from my book. Thank you, Grandma, for holding me close like Mother and Child. For leaving me with memories so dear I set them down to share with the world...
When I look out across this river, I see the cliffs and mountains that shelter a special place…a house I loved to go to as a child. Inside its walls, pickles and jellies poured off shelves and pies marched from an ancient oven—cherry, apple, rhubarb, peach. On its property, berries swelled into round moons of pleasure. Vines curled, climbed in the clefts of rock walls. Trees swayed and bowed, dropping fruits into my eager hands. I stained my lips purple with mulberries, dirtied my nails digging potatoes, tripped through golden grasses chasing tiny blue butterflies. My grandmother rose early to care for this place, donning denim overalls and shading her face with a wide straw hat. She sweated dark circles around her neck and armpits, perched red-faced on towering ladders to prune and shape. She combed the lake in her rowboat, lifting lily pads like fainted water nymphs to build a pyre of amber green beneath the flames of the sun.
Photo of Mother and Child (original photo by Lynn Johnson), by L.L. Barkat.