On Friday morning, my husband and I drove to Cross Creek Township to pick up a tractor that had been undergoing repairs to the PTO shaft. Along the way, I enjoyed some lovely scenery, as we were out early when the dew was still on the grass and everything sparkled in the morning light. When we were about five miles from our destination, we passed a tree that instantly sent me back to another summer, more than 20 years ago.
Summers in those days were slower, with few places to be and even less money to spend. My brother, sisters and I passed the days in our backyard, with only ourselves for companionship and a hefty dose of imagination to entertain us.
We swung on grape vines, wandered the pastures, climbed trees and hunted frogs. We caught lightning bugs in jars and used them for nightlights when we camped out in sleeping bags in the field. We pretended to be pirates, superheroes and members of the “A-Team.” We played the best baseball anyone could play with only four players, and we cooled off on hot summer days by jumping in the rain barrels at the corners of the house.
My grandparents lived next door and had what my grandmother called a “smoke tree” in the yard. This tree, which was similar to the one I saw on our recent drive, bloomed in early summer. Before it bloomed, it was nothing special, but when it was in full grandeur, it was amazing to see. The balls of wispy flowers made the tree look like a stationary cloud of smoke. But, since it was a tree that my grandmother was particularly fond of – and we were forbidden to climb – we paid it little attention.
One day, the four of us kids were playing some version of croquet in the front yard, and my brother reigned victorious. In celebration, he raised his mallet with glee and must have bumped the smoke tree, which was in full bloom at the time.
Suddenly, from behind the smoky veil, a loud buzzing erupted. The next thing we knew, a swarm of angry hornets burst forth from behind the blooms and began stinging my brother’s face.
We all dropped our mallets and ran as fast as our bare feet would take us. When we got inside, his face was already swelling. Most of the stings were around his mouth, which quickly began to look like the bill of a duck.
We were very fortunate that he did not require medical attention, just some Benadryl and a baking soda paste for the swelling. I do recall my grandmother didn’t have to holler out the window to remind us to stay out of the tree for at least the rest of that summer. I hadn’t thought about that day in decades, but seeing that tree last week brought back a truckload of memories in that ethereal way that only random sights or smells can. In that moment, I was just a little girl again – one who was happy that day to be bad at croquet.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.