by Fyn -
Wanders and wishes in the autumn of our lives
The Wishing Tree
"Come for a walk with me? It's a beautiful autumn day and there's something I want you to see."
Sprawled on the couch and buried under a blanket, her husband shook his head. "No. I'm watching TV."
"C'mon." She tugged at his blanket. "It's a rerun you've seen a million times. The butler did it!'
"No, he didn't. Oh wait, I guess maybe he did." He looked up at his wife standing there expectantly. "A walk, eh?"
She tugged harder at the blanket and then smiled as he tried to tug it back. "I know, I know. You are all snuggled in like a little kid, but I really want to go for a walk with you."
"No place to walk 'round here," he groused.
"It's only a short drive. Please?"
"Never could refuse those green eyes of yours. Okay, okay."
Sarah and Jaime drove just outside of town and he parked on a back road. "I know where we are, I play golf here. You don't come out this way."
She smiled. "I do occasionally. Have since way back when. There's a pretty trail just beyond those trees," she said, pointing east.
"Hmm. How come I don't know about that trail?"
"You will now. Come," she said, taking his hand. "Do you remember? Think back, old man," she said with a giggle. "Thirty-some-odd years ago we went for a wander out here. We were on your bike and the gravel road scared me silly, so I walked and you rode down to where the blacktop crossed, parked your bike and met me half way?"
His brow furrowed, but then he grinned. "Yes, I do, now that you mention it. We got a bit side-tracked as I remember. I believe you lost a leaf fight and had to pay the price." He grinned broadly now. "Could never forget that, my love. Thirty years ago? Seems like forever ago and like yesterday."
Sarah nodded. "Remember our making a wish and tucking a quarter under a bit of bark on that huge oak tree? Do you remember what you wished for? I do."
"What did you wish for? You wouldn't tell me then. Why now?"
"I wished for us. Just as we are now. Course, back then, it was only a few weeks before we went our separate ways. Never forgot that wish though. And now look at us! Thirteen years back together and I got my wish! Had to find the tree again and so last week I came out here. Close your eyes."
"Just keep them closed. A few more steps and, okay. You can open them now."
What had been a huge oak, was now immense. Its trunk was covered in coins as high as people could reach and even higher as if someone had climbed on another's shoulders to find a clear space. It shone in the dappled sunlight shining through the leaves. A few coins lay scattered on the ground.
"What the heck?"
"We started something, back all those years. And to think, no one messes with the coins. Not even the ones lying on the ground. Guess it's the best kept secret folks only whisper about." She pointed to the coins lying in the leaves. "They say those coins that fall are wishes that didn't come true. Look," she pointed. "There's ours, firmly attached still."
Jaime shook his head. "This is amazing, sweetheart." He walked around the tree. Close to ten feet up it was covered in silver coins. "I do remember my wish, hon. I wished for life to be simple again. Seemed like everything was so confusing to me back then. Too much pushing and pulling at me. I never was sure which way to go, what to do." He looked at her. "And you know what? It more or less stayed that way until you came back to Michigan. Then, somehow, everything pretty much fell into place. I'd forgotten all about this tree and our wishes."
"I never did. But then, I never stopped loving you either."
"You didn't give up on me even when we were half a country apart. When I needed you, when I needed someone to talk to, you always answered the phone."
"Are you kidding? Of course, I did! Even if it was only so I could hear your voice. Didn't matter if you were worrying about one of your girls or stressing over when you lost your job. I could hear you and be apart of your life again for a few moments. It almost killed me when you called after your Mom passed away. I wished I could have been with you. I felt so helpless."
"Hon, you helped me that day, more than you can possibly know. And then, when Dad passed as well. Remember when I called after Beth had Mike? I called after Zachary was born too. Guess I called whenever anything big happened. Never really thought about it."
Sarah smiled. "I did." She gently touched the quarter they'd stuck in the tree thirty years prior. "Anyway, I just wanted you to see this."
"And to think I didn't want to get off the couch. I'm sorry about that. Guessing I've been in something of a mood lately." He sat, leaning back against a nearby tree.
"Any particular reason?"
"Work, mostly. The overtime is great, but the hours bother me more than they used to. This 'getting old' stuff is for the birds."
She rubbed her hand along his arm. "I know it. We ain't no spring chickens anymore, Pa," she drawled it out. He laughed, as she'd meant him to.
"So, you want to tell me the rest of it?"
"The rest ..." He sighed. "Can't keep anything from you, can I? I didn't work quite as late as I said last week. Had a stop on the way home. Been so tired lately, I thought there might be something else wrong."
Her eyes widened. "What? You okay?"
"Blood pressure was sky high. You know me - 120/80. All the time. It was 174/95. Doc says maybe I should think about finally retiring."
"What do you think?"
"I think we can't afford for me to retire. We can't live off of social security."
Sarah drew a heart in the dust on the ground. "I guess I'd rather have you and cut back some, well, a lot, I guess. Did he say anything about why it is so high?"
"He scheduled me for some bloodwork and other tests next week. Said something about BP meds."
"Well, mine keeps mine in check. Hard when one's mortality rears its ugly head."
He shrugged. "Yeah."
"You'll be okay. You are in good shape and maybe cut out some ice cream or ..."
"Not that!" he said in an exaggerated tone before laughing. "It's just worrisome."
"We'll be fine. Bet you feel some better finally telling me about it."
"Yes, yes I do," he smiled. And why do I think you already knew?"
"Because I did, love. Well, I knew something was up. The doctor's office called my cell by mistake and left a recorded message saying your appointment was changed to Thursday instead of Wednesday, same time. And you still have to fast before the bloodwork, nothing after ten in the morning."
"Love you, you know."
"I know. Hey! Let's add a couple of quarters to the tree with new wishes."
"Sure we wouldn't be pushing our luck?" he asked.
A few reddish-gold leaves fell, wafting down as she dug in the front pocket of her well-worn jeans and pulled out two coins. "One for each of us. Here's the 2008 quarter we got in change on our wedding day. That should be lucky."
"Of course! What is on the other one? 1952? Where'd you find that?"
"I've had it for a while," she smiled. "Not too many 1952 quarters around anymore."
"You wouldn't be implying I'm really old now, would you?" he asked playfully.
"Nope," she grinned. "I'm taking the 2008 one." They held the quarters together, palm to palm, as each made their wish. "Going to tell me your wish?" she asked.
"Nope. And don't be telling me yours either. It worked last time. Ain't broke, let's not be fixing it!"
Together they searched for a perfect spot and found one on the backside of the ancient oak. Carefully, he snugged his under a loose piece of bark, then looked Sarah straight in the face as he leaned in to kiss her. "Love you," she said with a smile, as she inserted hers near his. "Let's go home, I'm getting cold."
Hand in hand they walked down the leaf-strewn path to the car. Behind them, a quarter slipped and fell to the ground.
Another autumn. This walk Sarah was accompanied by the kids, hers and his, as well as the grands and greats. She carried his ashes in a carved wooden urn. The plan was to bury the ashes beneath the old oak tree. Hers would join his at some point in the future.
"Grand, where are the quarters you and Grampa left?" asked Cali, the youngest granddaughter.
"Let me see if I can find them," Sarah said. She pointed out the original coin, before moving around to the back of the tree. She found her quarter quickly enough. "See, 2008, the year Grampa and I got married."
"Where's Grampa's?" asked the oldest Emma, the oldest of the 'greats.'
"I don't know," Sara said softly. "I can't seem to find it."
"Maybe it fell," said Evan, her grandson, helpfully.
Sarah went down to her knees, gently brushing leaves aside. And there it was. His 1952 quarter. "It fell," she whispered. "He never did tell me what he wished for."
"He told me," Beth, his daughter said. "He wished that he'd die after you, so that you'd never be alone." Her eyes filled with tears. "What was your wish?"
Sarah was quiet for a long, long moment. Tears streamed down her face. How very us, she thought. "I wished that I would be the last to die because I didn't want your dad having to live beyond me."
"Good call, Mom," her oldest child said. "Dad would have been completely lost. You are the stronger one in a lot of ways. You'll survive. It is what you do," she said giving her mom a hug.
"Don't cry, Grand. You'll make Grampa sad. It's too pretty here to be sad," said Cali, turning her Grampa's quarter over and over in her hand before giving it a kiss and handing it to her grandmother. "You should keep it and put it in the jewelry box Grampa made for you.
Sarah smiled. "I'll do just that," she said, a hint of a smile on her face.
She ran her hand over the smooth exterior of the black walnut urn. "I wonder," she said hesitantly.
"What?" came a chorus of voices.
"Maybe we could not bury Grampa's ashes just yet. I think I want to keep them a while longer."
"I think Mom should keep them the rest of her life. Then, when she ...when she -"
It's okay, Cara, you can say when I die," Sarah looked at her daughter.
"Well, I think we should wait and put both your ashes under the tree together, at the same time."
"Yeah!" chimed in Cali. "Then both your wishes would have come true."
"And we could put Daddy's quarter back on the tree then, too!" added Beth.
"I really love all you guys," Sarah said smiling as she somehow managed to gather all of them together in a hug. "He would love that."
As they left back down the leaf-covered trail, kicking up bits of scarlet and gold as they walked, Sarah looked back and could have sworn she saw the tree shimmer a brighter silver in a brief flash.
"It really did, Mom," Cara whispered. "I saw it too!"