Robert Frost’s BloomFiction — By Susie Finkbeiner on October 26, 2012 at 3:00 am
My Granddad planted a tree when my mom was born. He transplanted the sapling from his childhood home across the state. It was just a normal, average oak tree. But he loved that tree.
“When I get to feeling hopeless, I just take a look outside at that old tree,” Granddad would say. “And I think about the future. Robert Frost makes me remember that through my children I have a legacy.”
The tree was named Robert Frost.
Well, Granddad died five years ago. His wishes were that we make a coffin out of the trunk. But that old tree is still rooted in the front yard. Apparently people don’t just have their own coffins made anymore. We buried him in a silver casket. It wasn’t what he wanted. But, then again, the family was never too concerned about what he desired.
After the funeral the family started fighting. Right there at the lunch. Soil hadn’t even filled in the hole of his grave yet. They fought for five years without stopping. It was an all out battle about money and objects. Stupid, if you ask me. Every holiday it would reignite. One uncle was suing an aunt over the family china. A cousin no longer spoke to his mother because of $1,000. Harsh words spoken from mouths full of mashed potatoes. Angry gestures from hands holding a forkful of beans.
When I got weighed down by all of the fighting I would go outside, sit under Robert Frost’s branches. In the summer they were heavy with leaves and acorns. In the fall they held orange and red flags that waved in the wind. In the winter the bare limbs twisted and curled their way up toward the sky.
Sitting there, under the boughs of my grandfather’s hope, I’d drown out the jabbering from inside. I’d try to remember the lovely days, the time we all got along. When we were sure of the strength of family and the love we had for one another.
It was the fifth Easter after his death. We all sat around the large dining room table. The meal was catered in. No one could agree on who would make which dish. We filled our plates then bowed our heads in blessing over the food.
“Lord God,” Uncle Edwin prayed loudly. “We thank Thee for this wonderful bounty. For Thy love and mercy, we give our praise. Father above, we beg that today, Thou wilt bring unity to this home. And that those who aim to cause dissensions among us would be thwarted.”
And on and on he went. He spoke in a slight British accent, but only when he prayed. As the first to graduate from college he felt the need to remind us of his superiority. The others in the family worked their hardest to remind him of his base and sinful human nature.
“Mighty Master of the universe, it is Thee we adore and it is Thee we serve. In all things, Thou will be done. Amen.” He sighed from the effort of his heightened reverence.
“Master of the universe?” my cousin Jack asked.
“Well, yes, Jack.” My uncle smiled piously. “The Lord, after all, was the one who made all things and sets all things in motion.”
“But, I thought the Master of the Universe was He-Man.”
“You think you’re so smart, do you?” Edwin was fuming. “You just wait and see the consequences of joking about such things.
Angry words were exchanged around the table. Most of which seemed ill fit to the celebration of the day.
The fury was followed by a silence, only broken by my Aunt Leigh, Edwin’s sister.
“Since we’re all here, I think we should talk about the estate.”
“What is there to talk about?” Edwin’s voice was still sharp with contempt. “You just have to bring up drama on this day of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. How selfish of you to try to start a fight today of all days.”
“I’m not trying to fight you on this, Edwin,” Aunt Leigh steamed. “But you must understand. Daddy wanted us to sell the estate.”
“Leigh, you’re sounding awfully money grubbing.” Uncle Edwin.
“But if you read the will, it clearly states what we’re to do with the house.”
“Exactly. He wanted us to make money off it. Do you know how much we could make by turning it into a Bed and Breakfast?”
“Now who sounds money grubbing?”
“Well,” my mother offered her voice. “I think it would be nice to let Elle live on the property. You know, keep it up and all that.”
“Mom,” I said. “I don’t know that I’d like that.”
“Besides,” Edwin, shoving ham into his mouth. “It wouldn’t be fair. Elle getting it and us…well…I’d feel a little cheated.”
“Oh, no.” My mother sipped her coffee. “We’d expect Elle to pay rent.”
“Well,” Leigh. “I just think that you’re all reading the will wrong.”
“Is it an interpretation issue?” I asked. “Why is it such a problem?”
“Oh, honey. You really don’t understand. You’re too young.”
“But, mom, I’m 35.”
“Uh huh. Just leave this to us to figure out.”
“You don’t seem to be doing that so well now, are you?” I walked out. I wanted to sit under Robert Frost.
It felt like nothing would ever make my family get things together. They would fight over the house until that was settled. Then they would find something else to argue over. And none of it really mattered at all.
How could I tell them that I carried the next generation in my womb? It might cause more problems. They didn’t approve of my husband and his family. The lima bean sized offspring didn’t need to enter this family. She or he didn’t deserve to watch aunts and uncles and grandparents clawing each other apart with hateful words and spite.
I walked outside. The air was sharp, just cold enough for a sweater. But the sun was shining. I tipped my face up to catch the warm glow.
The sun was behind Robert Frost’s branches. I had to squint as I walked toward my sitting spot. I lowered myself, letting my back rub against the coarse bark. I rested my body against the solid trunk. The smell of the tree and the earth triggered my mind to memories of childhood. Climbing into the limbs, reading books under the shade of leaves, running rings around the base, leaping over roots. I closed my eyes and absorbed the silence and calm.
After a few moments my heart stopped thudding, my anxious jitters subsided. I put the china and money and possessions aside. I didn’t want to think about them. I didn’t need to. I just wanted to sit with my family and share memories of my Granddad. To tell stories and recite his wise words. To let the next generation in on how great a man he was. All the rest was just a vapor. It was nothing.
I looked up and saw the gold dots of bloom on the tips of Robert Frost’s fingers. The hope of spring nestled in my heart.
Something new was coming.
Susie Finkbeiner is Burnside’s Fiction Editor and author of Paint Chips, an upcoming novel.