The house in Cosmopolis that I primarily grew up in is one of my least favourite residences that I have lived in over the years. My relationship with that house was not fated to be a good one from the get go, so I shouldn't place blame on the house itself. It was just doing its housey thing before I showed up, keeping the rain and snow off the electrical appliances, making sure people's stuff wasn't easily thieved, allowing semi-tropical houseplants to thrive through Saskatchewan's frigid winters. As much as my seven-year-old self did not have any say about where we were moving, the house did not have any say about who moved into it. We were both victims of circumstance.
I am not entirely sure why it is that I never liked that house. From the beginning, I was against moving to Saskatchewan and leaving the only place I had ever known behind. The moment I laid eyes on that house, I was determined never to fall into believing that it was my home. My allegiance lay with the city of my birth, and I was a resolute child.
Another possible reason for my continuing dislike of the house is that my childhood was an emotional and psychological hell, for the most part, culminating in schizophrenic delusions that nearly had me murder my own family. There is likely a good argument that my feelings about that house were coloured by the experiences I had in it.
So, we got off on the wrong foot, so to speak, the house and I, and we never did attempt to mend the schism. It kept up its end by sending icky, malevolent vibes at me, and I vowed to move out as soon as humanly possible without having to be a street urchin. At nineteen, I moved out to room with a highschool friend, and if the house missed me as much as I missed it, we both felt that our parting had come none too soon. Even now as an adult who has not lived long-term in that house in thirteen years, I avoid it. Absence has made neither of us any more fond of the other.
Despite my less than stellar feelings for the place, there are a handful of things that I am nostalgic about, and one of those things is the crabapple tree in my parents' back yard.
The tree was already there and approximately four years old when they bought the house. I hardly noticed it at first, because the previous owners had planted the back yard full of tall, unruly lilac bushes that obscured the fence, trees, and lawn in impenetrable cascades of broad leaves and sickly-sweet cones of lilac flowers. My parents ripped out every last lilac bush, much to my delight, and there in the middle of the back fence was a gnarled, smallish tree.
It was August, so we had missed its flowering and its fruit, but every spring afterward the crabapple tree would cover itself in pale pink blossoms. My father told me that each blossom represented a future apple, and that the more blossoms there were, the heavier the branches would be when they grew. He would take out his heavy duty pruning sheers and lop off several garbage bags full of branches each year to save the tree from snapping its own limbs with the weight of its fruit.
Its apples were a bright orange-red that would transmute to other oranges, yellows, and greens as you turned it on its stem. The side that faced out toward the sun was redder, and sometimes if you tasted one side of the fruit and then the other, it could taste like two different apples, one side sour and the other sugar sweet. My mother made pies with them and still does, baking them with brown sugar that turns the filling a soft, vintage-satin pink.
The crabapple tree, we were told, was of a kind that should only produce fruit every other year, and then it would only do so for ten to fifteen years. The tree is approximately thirty years old now and produces more and more fruit every season, never having rested even one year in all this time. It produces so much fruit that my mother bakes and freezes pies, cans apples, gives plastic ice cream pails of them away to friends and donates pounds of them to the local food bank. Even then there are always some left rotting on the lawn that are raked up every fall.
When I was in elementary school and the tree was in bloom, I would lie in the shade beneath it. My legs baked dry in the afternoon sun while cool grass tickled the insides of my ears in the shade of the tree . I had a terrible fear of bees, but the bees that floated in amongst the blossoming branches seemed so innocuous. They never loomed lower than the leaves and remained invisible in the darker interior, buzzing a low hum that would lull me into a drowsy half-sleep. Dreams would drift along the current of the underlying hum above me. There was a strange sense of safety under that blanket of bees and apple blossoms that has never been replicated.
One year, I heard a lot of talk about an army of tent caterpillars that was supposed to consume the city. I was fascinated with the idea of an ornate carpet of soft-bodied insects tramping through my yard and was eager for their arrival. Not long after, I was standing on the deck and looking at the crabapple tree across the lawn. It didn't look right at all, and fear crept up the nerves along my spine. Standing in the middle of the yard, I could see that the tree appeared to be moving at its edges, as though heat currents were distorting my vision. I screwed up my courage and inched my feet closer. Holy fucking Christ, man! Purple and blue fat, many-legged worms decorated in gorgeous geometric patterns were marching up the tree, completely concealing the trunk from view. Their single-minded advance was astounding as they masked first the trunk and then each of the branches on their way to the leaves. Nothing short of fire could deter them from their mission.
When I was about eight years old, in Sunday school, we were told about Zacheus, a tax collector in the Bible who repented of his ways and climbed up into a tree to wait for Jesus. Sometimes I would imagine myself sitting atop the crabapple tree in the cloud of its pink flowers, serene and unfettered and waiting. In my mind it was not Jesus I was waiting for but some distant and ever-approaching Shangri-la future that moved toward me along an unalterable course. In my mind's eye, my future was a destiny unfolding before me, one as yet unseen but sure and good.
That tree finds its way into my thoughts over and over, even though I have not seen it bloom in spring or eaten its apples sour-side-first in a handful of years. Even when I lived in that house, I imagined the tree more than I visited it, and it came to symbolize a calmness, a sense of well-being, that my life at the time did not offer. It was proof that things were not always what they seemed: the hum of bees could be a comfort, a tree could produce fruit and prosper beyond a botanist's prognostication, and there was a place where I could imagine myself into a future when I felt there was nothing left for me in the world.
Now she knits her old-woman fingers so tightly together that the annual pruning proves difficult. I want to lie beneath her again and listen for the dry sound her old limbs must make when they rub against each other in the wind.