15 January 2011

The Family Tree

Before the fiction begins, I just wanted to thank everyone who've been stopping by and offering their two cents. It's good to know my words are being seen by anyone other than myself.

Also, in keeping with the resolutions, I need to play a little catch-up. I have read a new book and listened to a new album.

The book is Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. Here's the review I put on Goodreads:

Reading this book was difficult. Not because of any grammatical or narrative flow issues, but rather I had to stop after every few paragraphs or quotes to finish laughing before continuing. It is, as Chelsea Handler is quoted on the cover, "ridiculously hilarious".

Justin Halpern's family reminds me of my own. A little dysfunctional in a fun way. Each anecdote reminded me in some small way of my own father, and my own experience growing up with him. While my dad will reserve his more colorful language for moments of extreme irritation, like Sam Halpern he is a man of principle and possessed of his own unique wisdom.

While I am not usually inclined to purchase NY Times bestsellers, having been a fan of the original Twitter feed I could not resist picking up this gem. It is touching in a weird way, and a good laugh all the way through. A short, but solid collection of wit, wisdom, and humor.

As to the music selection, it was Alice in Chains' 1990 debut Facelift. The one single everyone will be familiar with is "Man in the Box". Honestly, I was not impressed with the album as a whole. The aforementioned track is really the only one (to me) that expresses the depth of Chains' talent and sound. Their 1994 EP Jar of Flies for the moment remains my favorite.

And now, may I present for your reading enjoyment, "The Family Tree":

It was a perfect day down on the farm. Wide-open spaces everywhere you looked. Blue skies, green grass. A picturesque farmhouse right out of a Rockwell. Out front, under an old oak tree, sat a young lad of not quite ten.

Alone, the boy had his multi-tool knife in hand, a thumb-thick twig in the other. Slowly, meticulously, he cut away the unwanted wood with the swish-chip that was more tactile than actual sound.

Swish-chip. Swish-chip. Swish-chip.

He leaned against the base of the oak and sighed a little, admiring his work. The boy twisted his wrist this way and that, examining his craft from every angle. He wasn't sure what it was going to be, but he knew it would be something good.

Ever so gently, a nearly-naked branch creaked and bent around to the boy's level near the ground. The cluster of twigs at the end wound around like a hairpin, bringing into focus the only leaves on the limb. They grouped in the shape of a face, like a medieval woodcut of the green man, though feminine in form.

Without so much as causing the boy to raise his eyebrows, the wind rose and passed through the leaves, giving the face a rustling voice familiar to his young ears.

“So, what're you doing there, hon?”


“On what?”

“A twig you and the family dropped this morning.”

“Really? And what are you making?”, the branch pulled in close to get a better look.

The boy held the twig between his thumb and forefinger, staring at it intently as he spoke, “Well, I'm really not sure. I'm just kinda letting my hands do what they feel is right.”

More of the ancient oak's branches began gathering over the boy's head. The collection of visages were silent as the wind could only blow one direction at a time. A grizzled, spanish moss-bearded branch joined the others.

The branch addressed the newcomer, “What do you think, Dad?”

The grandpa branch twisted up, down, and all around. He looked at every bit of the boy's handiwork before giving his two cents, “Looks like a peanut to me.”

The boy laughed heartily, “Grandpa! It's not a peanut!”

The branch came to within an inch of the boy's nose, “And how do you know? You just said you weren't sure what you were doing!”

He kept giggling, “Well, I know it's not a peanut.”

The grandpa-branch turned to the other branch, “He's your son. Why'd you ask me for?”

The stodgy old branch ruffled his leaves in irritation. He went back to facing the sun's warmth near the top of the old oak.

Before anything else could be said, the boy's father came out of the front door, “Henry, it's time for lunch. The family isn't bothering you too much are they?”

“No, Dad. Mom just wanted to know what I was doing.”

“Well, come get your sandwich. What are you doing, anyway?”

“Just carving on a stick the family dropped.”

The man addressed the mother-branch, “So that's what caught your mother's attention.”

The branch turned to the father, “What? I can't take an interest in my son?”

“Well, you are dead, dearest. Current incarnation notwithstanding.”

The leafy face smiled, “Hey! I resemble that remark.”

“Dad! Mom is not dead! She's as alive as you or me and everybody else.”

“I know son, I know.”

The woman-branch crossed her twig-arms and gave the man a look only a wife can throw.

The father looked to his wife-branch and returned her amused glare with an equally amused “what?” expresssion, “Son, go on in and eat your lunch.”

“Okay, Dad.”

The mother-limb called to the child as he walked toward the house, “Enjoy your lunch sweetie.”

“I will Mom!” he called back.

She bent back to her usual spot near the middle of the tree's canopy. Father and son walked into the house, the elder's arm around the boy's shoulder.

“So can you tell me?”, the man asked his son.

“Tell you what?”, the boy shot back.

“What are you carving?”

“Something special.”


“You'll see.”

Really the boy wasn't sure what the twig would become. He did have an idea. He hoped his small hands and his knife were up to the challenge he had made for himself.

He quickly ate his lunch, practically inhaling the sandwich in a manner only the young could manage. After washing the sticky bread and peanut butter from his mouth with an equally hasty glass of milk, he went back to his seat at the base of the tree.

Swish-chip. Swish-chip. Swi-i-i-ish-chip.

“Careful you don't cut yourself, nephew.”, an aunt-branch had com forward, “I'll still want my lashes pruned this week.”

Henry giggled a little, “I know Auntie. I'll be careful.”

“I know you will. For all your mischief you're still a good boy.”

“Thank you, Auntie.”

“Are you any closer to knowing what your hands are making?”

“I think so. But I don't want to say. I might spoil it.”

“Is it that important, nephew?”

“I think so.”

The aunt-branch knew she would get no farther with the boy, and so joined the others for some afternoon sun.

Swish-chip. Swish-chip. Swish-chip.

The afternoon passed quickly for the boy, and before he knew it the sun was setting on the horizon.

The little twig Grandpa called a peanut still looked like a peanut, though now it had little nubs at the middle and end. Henry was proud of what he had done, though he was not yet finished.

His father had come out on the porch, watching the young boy's progress. He had an idea of what Henry had done, and could not have been more proud.

“Hey Dad!”, Henry called from his seat.

“Yeah son?”

“I think I'm done, but I need your help! Can you get me some tape from the kitchen drawer?”

“Sure thing. I'll be right out.”

The man disappeared into the house and returned a moment later with the tape. He gingerly crossed the yard to hand the young child the roll.

He called to his mother-branch, “Mom, could you come here, please?”

The mother-branch was quite tired, as gathering sunlight was an exhausting exercise, but she made the effort anyway, “Honey, it is far too late for you to be out. Isn't it time for dinner?”

“I know Mom, but I have a present for you.”

“Is that what you've been working on? That's very sweet of you, but I don't need anything.”

“But you did say you always wanted another child. And I've always wanted a brother or a sister. So here you go.”

Henry took his blade and scraped a little bark away from the mother-branch's neck. He then gently took the small twig-peanut-thing and carefully placed it against the moist wood, wrapping it carefully with the tape.

As he tore the tape from its roll, the little nubs of the peanut began twitching. The mother-branch cried dewdrops from the corners of her acorn-eyes.

The whole family drew their branches near the boy's handiwork. His father stood behind him, hands on his shoulders, eyes slightly red in that joyful sort of way.

“You did good, son.”

The twig-fetus gave a shrill little cry as the sun laid to rest behind the horizon.

1 comment:

Karl Joe said...

I've read one book so far this year, but technically I started it at Thanksgiving so I don't know if that counts. I'm going to try to complete one book each month, all year.