We hadn’t been living in our new-to-us house for very long when I was called over by my neighbor. It was the first of only four times we were to speak to one another—we didn’t have problems, but she was from an old society family and we were just folks from some place else. She wanted to discuss the magnolia spread far into both of our yards. “This magnolia gives me lots of pleasure,” she said. “Even though its trunk is on your property, you are to do nothing to harm this tree. It is very old, it is magnificent and it is a great treasure.” I have no depth perception. To me that tree stretched to the sky and was round enough at the bottom to house a forest of magnolias. The birds loved it, Mrs. Society-Jones loved it, I loved it.
Mrs. S-J died and the family with teenagers moved in next. They must have loved the tree, too, because the ground underneath was often littered with beer cans and whiskey bottles. I am sure whole packs of high-schoolers used the tree for their rites of passage, it was that big, so they could hide and the grown-ups would never know what they were doing under there, and I didn’t want to know. When those people left (and the neighborhood breathed a sigh of relief), a family with a small child bought the house.
Not long after I stepped outside and found the father grimly raking leaves from around the tree. We had never raked; we weren’t the raking kind. I said hello, found out he was preparing for a family party. He said as if I were at some way at fault for his misery, “I hate magnolias. They’re trashy. We had one when I was growing up. I had to rake it. I swore when I was grown, I would never live with another magnolia.”
I looked at him, and then looked up at the tree. Up and up and up and up. I said, “Didn’t you see that magnolia before you moved in?”