[Our Limelight Hydrangea.]
I look at the clock. It’s 4:35 am. I can’t sleep.
I begin another chapter in the book I’m reading. I go into the kitchen and eat a cracker. I sip some Tonic Water (it helps my leg cramps). I go back to bed. I can’t sleep. I take a little pill. Sleep isn’t coming to me tonight.
Sleep evades me almost every night. It’s been that way since I was a child. “What do you think your missing?” my mother would say. I had no answer.
I look out of our bedroom window and see our Limelight Hydrangea plant. In the pre-dawn light, it looks unearthly bright…like I left the car lights on. Or that small moons have dipped into our front yard. Or is it possible that I had indeed fallen asleep, slept through the rest of the summer…through fall and now I’m waking up to a new and substantial snowfall?
It’s dawn now and I still can’t sleep. Then I remember something. Two days ago, Mariam got me to open the door to the attic. Not so easy in this house. She wanted to do some gleaning of our stuff. We are trying to “de-thing” ourselves. She said she found a box of NYC books. I told her I didn’t want to go through those books right now. Who knows, we may move back to the City in the not-so-distant future. I might want those books then.
When she got back down from the pull-down ladder, she said there was plenty of my “stuff” up there in boxes.
I asked her what she saw. She said there was the tree clock. I asked her to repeat. She said: “You know, the clock that your father made from the tree”.
I’m still awake and now thinking about the clock that my father made…for me.
I grew up in Owego, New York. We were blessed with a large back-yard. There were enormous evergreen trees just beyond the lawn where my swing set was located. In between those two tall coniferous trees was a small Birch. Its trunk was only a few inches in diameter. One day, my father rounded up his four sons. He had us sit in front of the Birch tree. I’m on the right and look impish. Is that a sling-shot in my back pocket?
[The first of four Birch Tree photos. Early 1950’s]
Over the years, my brothers and I recreated our positions in front of the growing Birch. We were all growing up. The final posed photograph was taken on a lovely spring day in 1992. We were holding a wake for my mother who had passed away on Easter Sunday morning.
[The 1992 photo is the last one.]
Soon after that, the Birch caught a tree infection. It died. My father was left with no choice. It had to be chain-sawed down. I was in Owego that weekend. I asked him for a small section of the tree. He cut it down. He cut it up into sections. I wonder how he felt when he touched the chainsaw to the tree. It must have broken his heart. It breaks mine just contemplating it. He loved his sons so very much. Did he cry? He never would have shown it. But I would have been in tears hoping that my watery eyes could still keep the saw on track. I left for my own home without the tree section.
Six months later, my father presented me with the piece of the tree. He had cut open one side and inserted a clock mechanism. On the other side, he attached the hands of a clock. He glued the hour numbers and attached a hook.
Since then I’ve moved many times. The clock always came with me, but over time, the numerals fell off.
That afternoon, after my sleepless night, I retrieved the clock from the attic.
I wondered what thoughts my father had when he cut the tree into pieces. So many decades have passed since he had his four boys take up a pose in front of the tree. I hold the clock in my hands. It’s all I have left of those four photo sessions. I run my fingers over the varnished clock face. I count the rings and calculate the ring that grew the year of the first photo.
Two of my brothers are gone now, as is my father.
I hold the Birch Clock in my hands.
These memories make me sad. I pray that I will sleep a dreamless sleep tonight.