June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:38 PM
"The two crabapple trees outside my front door are in full bloom. I can never quite tell when they will blossom, but suddenly they'll burst into a vibrant deep red color that leaves me breathless. Apple trees do that too, with their delicate pink and white blossoms and sweet aroma. Each spring they take me by surprise.When the apple blossoms appear, I'm reminded of the ancient apple tree just outside the back door of the house I grew up in. It must have been well over 100 years old. It was huge - or so it seemed to me as a child - with two large branches that supplied shade throughout the hot summer. At one time it must have had more branches.The tree had lived through uncountable seasons, with generations enjoying its blossoms, shade, and apples. Everyone loved it, and I think that love kept it alive.Occasionally during the summer, a doozy of a lightning storm would hit. The lightning would come into the house and dance along the exposed water pipes in the kitchen. Whoever happened to be in the yard near the tree or in the house would make a hasty dash to the living room.The power would always go out, and we'd light the oil lamps, play cards and keep a watch on the old tree outside the window, hoping and praying the lightning wouldn't take it.My father would pick this time to retell the story of Fred Putnam, who had built our house and lived in it with his family until my father bought it. He'd start by saying, He was a tall, very strong man who could make anything with his hands. Look at the workmanship in this house; it will last forever.Then he'd continue with one of the many stories Fred had told him.Once during a very mean fall storm, when the tree was younger, but a big tree, a bolt of lightning hit it and split it, down the middle. Fred was determined to keep it alive. He fashioned several metal hoops, similar to the ones holding the cider barrels together, and put them around the tree to hold it together.Fred carefully watched the tree, and talked to it all winter. When spring came, the tree had healed itself and burst into bloom again, The hoops are still around the tree, buried, as the trunk grew over them.I have a vague memory of Fred. When I knew him, he still was an impressive size, though old and somewhat bent. He would ask me where I lived, and when I told him, he would brighten and smile and ask about the tree and if the lightning still sparkled across the kitchen water pipes.On one branch of the tree hung a rope swing, summer and winter. One couldn't go very high on it, but it was perfect for a solitary swing. It was where everyone in the family went, and even friends and neighbors, to soothe hurt feelings, anger, frustration and disappointment. We learned that when someone was in the swing, let them be.My earliest memories are of the sandbox under the tree. It was actually an old metal sink with wooden drain board, set up on low saw horses. It worked perfectly for me and my friends for making sand pies, cakes and cookies, which we set on the drainboard to cool. We learned how to make hollyhock dolls and how to fill the sink with water so our dolls could go swimming.It seemed as though the entire summer took place in the shade of the tree. An old wooden table sat to one side, with a few wooden chairs too rickety to be used in the house.On particularly hot afternoons my mother would bring out cold homemade root beer and cookies for however many kids were gathered. We'd sit at the table and know in our hearts there was nothing better in the whole world on a hot day than cold homemade root beer. Sometimes when friends of my brothers were there too we'd play cards - usually some kind of poker with stones for chips, and yelling a lot if we thought anyone was cheating. When the game got too noisy, my mother would show up saying sternly, That's enough! bringing us cups of cold ginger ale and cookies.Through the seasons the ancient gnarled trunk would be home for a game of kick the can, hide 'n' seek and run sheep run. One summer we had a pet crow. We'd found him as an injured baby bird. My father made a box for him and put it up on the tree. For weeks we nursed the bird, offering stale bread dipped in milk, which he loved and thrived on. We called him simply Crow.After we let him out of his box he stayed around all summer, twice a day screeching for his bread and milk. That fall he left with the other crows.To this day, whenever life gets too stressful and I need to find a quiet place, I'm so glad to be able to return to the aged apple tree and the homemade root beer. "