I love white dogwoods. My daddy loved them. He planted many. He went to the woods once and dug up a wild small one, which was illegal in Virginia. He took me along, and I was nervous someone would see us much like I was when several years later he took me to the same country road for my first driving lesson the week before I was to take the test for my learners permit.
I got in the driver’s seat and Daddy sat close beside me so he could grab the wheel if need be. When I was driving slowly, a police car appeared in the other lane and drove over the hill behind us. Daddy said, “Stop the car and let me behind the wheel.” The policeman turned around, came back and stopped us. He said, “Was she driving?”
Daddy said, “She is not driving now.”
The officer stared at us. He didn’t like it, but he let us go.
When I told Mama about it, she said, “I don’t know why he couldn’t wait one week.”
But I digress. All his dogwood trees died. The last one was a four-foot baby that was still living when I fell on it while I was backing up for a badminton shot. It broke in half, and I felt my heart drop to my knees.
I didn’t want to tell. I wanted to wait and say, “Someone else did it,” or “I don’t know what happened,” but I knew my face would give me away.
Mary Frances, my playing partner, and I stood and looked at the remaining stalk for a while. Finally I walked in the back door and said, “I killed your dogwood. I am so sorry.” He took it well, but I could feel his disappointment. Not long after, the city said cars could not be parked on the street in front of our house. He covered all the grass in the backyard with asphalt so two cars could be kept there with room to turn around and drive out to the busy street facing forward. Then only roses could line both sides of the blacktop.
Daddy planted two dogwoods in the yard of our first house in Charlotte. They lived, but then we moved to Florida. We stayed there for twelve years, and he was gone when we moved back to Charlotte. I hired a professional landscaping company to plant one that was too big to break in the front yard of my second Charlotte house. It has thrived.
Two years ago I asked the same company to plant two in the backyard where a big tree had come down. My husband had said, “Let’s give them to each other as Christmas and birthday presents.” They died, but they were guaranteed so two more were planted last year. They bloomed beautifully in April, but in the fall they didn’t look right—they didn’t produce the tight little buds under the red leaves that would be next year’s blooms.
I called the grower in February. He said, “If they are dead, I won’t replace them again. You must have bad soil back there.”
For the month of March I looked at them several times a day and said to myself—you have to let them go just like Daddy did, and I felt what seemed an irrational sadness that was bigger than just the loss of the money although that was significant.
April 1st I looked out the window and thought something seemed different. I ran outside and saw what I thought might be the beginning of leaves. When I got back from a business trip, three days of 80 degrees had made it definite. They wouldn’t bloom this year, but they were not dead. They had leaves. I am and Daddy would be so happy.