At the age of six, I was a very active child. Never stood still, rarely stopped talking and was into everything whenever the adults weren’t paying attention. So when my uncle came upon me that windy spring day, standing silent and still in his backyard – looking up, with one ear tilted to the sky – he was understandably curious.
“Tami Sue. Your uncle asked you a question…” Daddy said in his gruff but gentle voice, breaking my concentration.
“Whaaat? I didn’t hear,” I replied distractedly.
“I asked what you were doin’ out here all by yourself. Did you see a squirrel?”
“No. I’m trying to hear what the trees are talking about.”
My uncle listened for a moment then chuckled, “That’s not the trees, Q. Those are cicadas you hear.”
I shook my head, curls bouncing for emphasis, “Not the bugs, Uncle Finn. Can’tcha hear the trees whispering to each other?”
Daddy’s grin was visible through the porch screen as he and my uncle shared a look, “What are they saying then?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a touch of frustration, “but it must be a secret because they’re whispering. Uncle Finn, can you lift me up to that branch? Maybe if I get higher I could hear better.”
“No, little monkey. You don’t want to go climbing an Oak tree.”
“Why not?” I pouted.
“You’ll get your Easter dress dirty.”
“I’ll go change,” I said simply, heading for the screen door.
“You still can’t climb an Oak tree, Q. Feel this bark, it’s like sandpaper. It’ll rub your hands and feet raw.”
I tested the bark, but was undeterred. “I’ll wear Aunt Nene’s kitchen gloves and two pairs of socks,” I announced.
“Nice little girls don’t climb trees, Tami Sue,” my mother called from the darkness of the porch, “and they certainly aren’t so stubborn. You climb that one, you’ll fall, break your neck and ruin everyone’s day.”
Arms crossed, I scowled at my mother’s voice and murmured, “I’ve never fallen before.”
“She climbs trees like she was born in one, Lois. Leave it to me,” Daddy interjected.
I smiled at the tree, Daddy would help me.
“Go change out of that dress, Tinkerbell. We’ll get you up there.”
Minutes later I returned in brown, corduroy overalls and yellow, rubber gloves that brushed my shoulders. There was a folding ladder set up under the tree, with Daddy and Uncle Finn securing it from either side – cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths like movie stars. I still wasn’t allowed to climb the tree, was even warned not to reach out for the nearest branch. But I spent a happy hour sitting on the top step of the ladder listening to the trees converse in breathy murmurs while two of my heroes stood guard, exchanging stories and laughing.
To this day, I have never climbed an Oak tree, but I’ve never stopped wanting to try.