The Tree of Hearts

By Lynn Ingram

I don’t remember when I first noticed the cedar tree. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I really never actually did notice it. It was just always there, a giant silent sentinel standing by the front porch of the house where I grew up.

It wasn’t even the largest tree in the yard. Two towering elms shared that honor, and one of them was even further graced by its election to hold my rope swing. Certainly, the cedar tree was plenty large enough to support the swing, with its trunk much too large for me to wrap my little girl arms all the way around it – but its first branches were far too high up its trunk for my swing to hang there.

Somehow, though, I always considered that cedar tree to be quite special. Why, I don’t know, and I’m sure I never voiced that thought aloud. Perhaps it was because, alone among the giant trees in the yard, it was an evergreen. Perhaps it was because, unlike the small cedars we cut from the field by the house for Christmas trees, it towered far into the sky.

I left that house, never to return, decades ago, to attend college and embark on an adult life that would find me living in many different places. Things changed at the house of my childhood. My parents divorced. The house burned and sat vacant. My father eventually repaired the damage and moved back into the house, alone.

The cedar tree remained.

A dozen or so years passed, and my father decided to move the house and sell the property where the tree grew. Too late, I asked him to give me the cedar tree. Why, he inquired, did I want it, and what would I do with it? I had no specific purpose in mind, but my thoughts were that I’d have it sawed into boards to one day be fashioned into a piece of furniture or perhaps a closet in some future home. But Daddy had given the tree to a neighbor, Mr. Cassidy, who had similar ideas for its use.

A year or so later, Daddy and I discovered that we’d both forgotten that conversation about the cedar. He didn’t remember my request for the tree. I didn’t remember that he’d given the tree to Mr. Cassidy on halves, that Mr. Cassidy would see to the sawing, and that he and Daddy would split the remaining boards.

Maybe Daddy didn’t remember hearing the words I said when I asked for that tree. I don’t mind that one bit. I am certain that not all important communications require the use of language; in fact, despite my love of using them, it is entirely possible that the very best communication occurs without words. And so it is that I know that through some means of understanding, regardless of method or vehicle, my father’s heart remembered my request.

Because sitting now at the foot of my bed is a cedar chest – fashioned from boards hewn from my cedar tree, joined lovingly and carefully together by my father’s hands as his last birthday gift to me.

“I’m not sure you’ll want this,” he said, prefacing the delivery of his gift with a telephone call. “I’m not really much of a carpenter.” Some of the boards were flawed, he said, with knots in odd places and saw marks that were unintended, and so the chest was not perfect.

Yes, I told him, of course I’ll want the chest you’ve made for me, tears rasping my words and wrenching my heart. I knew that the truth of my words failed somehow to convey over the distance. I could hear his fear, his doubt: does my country-born but somewhat city-slickered daughter really want what I have made – or is she merely being kind?

Vainly then over the telephone, and then again when he brought the chest to me, I searched for the perfect words, falling helplessly into my regular trap of being in command of a quantity of such things while lacking the quality required.

I never did find those perfect words. I was left to trust in the inaudible but unerring communication of hearts.

One thing, though, I was able to say with assurance. Often, over our years together, I had occasion to tell my father that he was wrong about one thing or another, only coming later to find that it was not he, but I, who was in error. This time, however, I am certain I’ve caught him in a mistake: It’s not perfect, he said, of my cedar chest.

But it is, indeed. Oh, yes, it is. My cedar chest was crafted with the heart and hands of love. With those tools, perfection is the only possible result.

About this writer

  • Lynn Ingram Lynn Ingram would rather dance than eat three times a day – unless it’s steamed oysters that are being served. Lynn works as a clinical psychologist and part-time instructor in the psychology department at UNCW. Either or both of those jobs might account for why she recently tried to change the TV channel with her cell phone instead of the remote.

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