I’ve heard Mac (Wallace to his family) talk about his grandfather’s chinaberry trees, or umbrella trees to clarify it (apparently there are two types) forever. He talks about how the temperature beneath the chinaberry seems to be a good 15 degrees cooler, something you discover as soon as you walk beneath the shade.
He remembers everyone sitting around under the trees talking — the old men, anyway, the boys were too full of fireflies to sit still and talk or stand still and listen to the tales being told beneath that old tree’s branches. They were too busy being rambunctious and chasing each other through the yards and down the dirt roads and over the fields.
They might stop and fling themselves down on the ground and hang on an old man’s words long enough to cool down in the shade of that huge canopy, thereby getting part of a story, neither knowing nor caring that they would get the rest of the story in some history class down the road.
Oh, the loss of hearing the whole story and hearing it firsthand. History books never get it exactly right. What is history anyway if not his story? The old folks always had these metal chairs that rocked back and forth,(sometimes coming dangerously close to the ground when they rocked back in laughter at some banter from a friend) and the chairs had square holes punched in their backs for ventilation.
Of course, somewhere nearby was the matching glider that the grandmas and aunts occupied, beans being snapped and shelled, the sound like a small explosion as they hit the metal dishpan the women held in their laps. They would be in low conversation with each other, not wanting anyone to overhear them, especially the children. Grandma would cackle and the other younger ones would cluck their disapproval.
The yards then were just outside rooms, no air conditioning was in these homes. The yard furniture was always green with white trim, it seems. Mac remembers the long summer days spent in the company of his cousins, some of whom were as close as brothers, the suppers that his Aunt Laverne fixed, the sheer weight of food making the table groan.
Then later on, just as it was getting dark, the games that all the young ones would play. “Ain’t no mad dogs out tonight” (Grandpa killed them all last night) seems to be a universal game of tag with a twist.
I don’t think we realize how tied to our grandparents we are till we become grandparents ourselves. It’s then that we remember the good times we had when we were under their care.
We want our own grandchildren to have the same experiences we had. We want them to know that Grandpa killed all the mad dogs and there’s nothing to fear. We want them to know that all the joys of childhood lay beneath the chinaberry tree.