PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chinaberry Tree -- An Early "Lucy"?

The photo above has little to do with the story I’m going to tell you – except for the cast of characters. That’s baby me and my cousin Grace in the photo. It far predates this story, but I don’t have one from the summer in question and, besides, this one’s cute.

Somewhere around the time I was 10 or so, my mother and her sister had a grand idea for the summer. I would go visit Aunt Mary, Uncle Bill and Grace for a week or two, then Grace would come to spend an equal amount of time with mother and me. For a long time, I thought they were giving us nice vacations. When I became a mother, I understood that they were getting vacations, too. From us.

I should point out immediately that Grace suggested the telling of this story, so I’m not getting in trouble with my cousin.

It was the typical country mouse, city mouse story. Grace and her parents lived in the country outside either Jackson or Vicksburg, MS. I forget which. Grace knew everything about her environment. She knew that vegetables didn’t come in cans at the grocery, and she knew what to do with them when they were picked. She knew about critters and trees and had even shot her dad’s gun.

Mother and I lived in Memphis. I knew how to take the right bus to get downtown and how to make transfers to get back, when to cross the street when a sleazy man was ahead, and I knew the way to all the fun stores at Poplar Plaza.

I was amazed at all the things Grace could do and wowed with all the “outdoors.” There was just so much of it. I was an apartment kid who was never far from sidewalks and busy streets. I did a fair job of learning to shell peas, but then Grace offered another diversion. “Let’s go sit in the Chinaberry tree.” I could understand “under” it. I was having trouble with “in” it.

We got to the tree in her front yard, and she scampered up into the branches without hesitation or thought. I remained quite still and embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know how to climb a tree. She slipped down from the tree as quickly as she went up and tried to give me instruction. Put your hand here. Put your foot there. I was a klutz, but she had an idea. She fetched a board from somewhere, leaned it up against the tree at an easy angle and explained that if I held on to the low limb, I could pretty much walk up into the tree. It worked. I don’t think I got any higher than the low limb, but Grace joined me in the tree and we sat there for a while. Then I think she just got tired of my stupidity. She jumped down from the tree and walked away saying, “get down by yourself.”

I sort of tried, but I was a city scairdy cat. Finally Uncle Bill came out (do you think I might have been whining?) and lifted me from the tree. Safe at last on solid ground.

But the game wasn’t over. Grace came to Memphis. We walked up to Poplar Plaza one day for one of my favorite activities – shopping. Not that I ever had any money to spend, but I really enjoyed looking at all the goodies and thinking about which ones I’d buy if I could. We went into one of the nicer stores that I enjoyed and, after checking out the main floor, headed for the upstairs.

We got to the escalator, and Grace balked. She’d never seen or been on an escalator. Oh my. I talked her through it as patiently as she coached me into the tree. And then, success. She mastered it, and we were upstairs with more pretty things to look at.

I don’t know what possessed me but after a while, I slipped away from Grace and took the escalator downstairs. She’d only made one trip UP an escalator and had never gone down one. I stood at the bottom of the down escalator and waited for her to notice that I was gone and start looking for me. She did and stood there fearfully unsure about how to make that first step onto the moving stairs. I watched, then walked off calling over my shoulder, “pretend it’s a Chinaberry tree.”

For the sake of drama, that should be the end of the story. But my mother wasn’t there to rescue her as Uncle Bill had rescued me. So I relented and helped her get down. It wasn’t so much that I was being altruistic; I knew I’d get in trouble if I left her there.

And with that making us even, we’ve not pulled any dirty tricks on each other since. At least that’s the way I remember it.


Zehr_Family said...


This was so great to read this accounting of that wonderful story that I have heard so many times from you and Mom. I partiularly liked the photo, I saved it to include it in a book I want to create of old family photos to show the kids how their parents and grandparents looked at much younger ages. I also loved it because it reminds of how much I resemble my mother at that age and keeps me ground in the fact that she and I are always going to look alike. I love that!! I have my grandmother's name to treasure all my life and my mother's looks, who could ask for more.


Anonymous said...

D, your story was accurate and wonderfully funny. By the way, please send me that picture you posted. I have never seen it.
Love you, Grace

Scarlett said...

Grace, Kristi --
Thank you both. I'm so glad you both enjoyed it and that you wanted me to tell it, Grace. I have a great "young Mike" story that I'm trying to get him to ok for telling. Maybe this will help persuade.