Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sailing on the Chinaball Tree

In the spring, when the lilac-colored flowers covered the Chinaball tree like wispy purplish-blue hair, Daddy picked bouquets to perfume the house. In the summer, when the Louisiana heat was heavy and hot, Daddy sat under the tree's thick canopy and luxuriated in the coolness listening as I jumped from branch to branch among the green foliage pretending to sail the high seas. He always wore a thoughtful, faraway look on his face as if he sailed with me. In the autumn, when the leaves lost some of their luster, the green balls turned yellow and fell to the ground. Daddy and I sat on the front porch and laughed as the chickens and birds staggered from eating too many of the narcotic fruits. In the winter, when all around was either dormant or dead, the tree clung to life, defiantly resisting the evolutionary urge to change, until even it had to succumb to the icy northern winds.

One day, the Chinaball tree died. Suddenly, without warning, the leaves turned a brilliant yellow, then a brittle brown. Daddy got the passe partout, his two-man saw, from the shed out back, and together, we cut it down. He saved a part of the trunk and sat it on the front porch, its heartwood bleeding a deep reddish-brown. The rest he burned in the fireplace.

Not long after, Daddy developed cancer, and as the malignant cells ate away at his body, he sat on his Chinaball stump and stared at the horizon, a pensive, distant look on his face, and I knew he was sailing without me.

Daddy finally succumbed. Weak and emaciated, his skin turned the same shriveled yellow of the Chinaball fruit just before it falls. One day he closed his eyes, drunk on the promise of death, and died.

Years later, I have my own problems facing the responsibilities I have assigned myself. I am educated now–not a tenant farmer like my father was. I load Daddy's Chinaball stump, worn smooth by time and use, into my old pickup truck and drive to his gravesite. I sit and imagine that I am sailing high above the cemetery through an ocean of clouds. Daddy sails with me. I tell him about the book I read, which states that the Chinaball, Melia Azedarach—the "Pride of India"—belongs to the mahogany family. They are a one-of-a-kind tree that grow fast, but do not live long; it is in their nature.

“Like people,” I say, but the words sound brittle like brown leaves off a dead tree.


Growing up, we had a large Chinaball tree (also called Chinaberry tree) in the front yard, and like the above story states, I spent hours upon hours playing in its canopy. Momma used the dried berries to create Christmas decorations and play jewelry for my sister. I would use the green berries as ammunition for my rubber tire slingshot. When in bloom, the tree was spectacular and the heavenly scent of the flowers would fill the air. The slice of life above is a work of fiction. Yes, there was a Chinaball tree in the front yard of our farmhouse. Yes, my father died of cancer. However, he did not die in the house that featured the Chinaball tree. Hope you enjoy it.

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