Southern Legitimacy Statement: Pliny was a Roman statesman who lived about the time of Christ. He was also a naturalist and that is how I came to be acquainted with his writings.
“Robur the oak,” is one of his lines. It is what he called the common oak of the Roman Empire: “Quercus robur.” That name has such a strong sound to it. In England, it is known as the English Oak. I guess they call it the Scottish Oak in Scotland.
Oaks have a strong and strange fascination for me. They bring out the amateur aboriculturist as well as the mystic. Unlike other trees, they seem to defy gravity.
Other trees send their branches upwards to compensate for the pull of the earth. The closer to vertical, the weaker the wood. Oaks send out branches horizontally as if raising a finger to gravity. “Drag on this, if you can.”
The Southern Oak is one of my favorites with its hanging moss. It looks like a stately specter still holding onto the remnants of a shroud.
I grow oak trees now. I got into this as an outgrowth of woodworking. I wanted to replace the wood I used to build furniture and canoes.
Given that they live hundreds of years, oaks are a long cycle crop.
But it does force you to take a long term view on things.
Waffles and Bacon
“I hope you fail.”
She wanted to call back the words the moment they left her lips. “Please, please don’t go,” she wanted to say. “Stay home. Stay with me.” Anything to stop Simon from joining the military.
“I hope you fail.” She could hear the words echo as the kitchen door slammed. She moved to the window to watch Simon run to his car.
“Please don’t go,” she whispered.
The car drove off and out the gate. She could hear the sound of the motor diminishing in the distance. The dust raised by the tires hung in the air for a few moments.
A bird chirped.
“I want to join the Coast Guard,” Simon told her a month ago while she cut the potatoes for supper for the two of them. She took a deep breath and said nothing.
“This won’t change for your ignoring me.”
“College. You should go to college. I can help you. I’ll help pay for it.”
“Mom, I will go to college, but later. The G.I. Bill will pay for it.”
She finished cutting the potatoes but made no move to put them in the pot.
“I want to do this.”
She didn’t move.
“I have to do this.”
She heard the car in the driveway and went into the kitchen and sat down. The car door closed and she heard the back door open a moment later. Simon was quiet when he entered the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway.
She smoothed her apron across her lap.
“There are interviews, yet. And tests – doctors.”
“When do you go?”
“Not ‘till I’m eighteen.”
Eighteen. Three more months. She’d have him three more months.
She answered the phone when it rang early in the morning. It was the Coast Guard asking for Simon. He was next to her. She handed the phone to him and stepped back.
“This is Simon.”
“How large is the class?”
“What are the chances that four will drop out?”
Her heart quickened.
“Oh,” she heard the disappointment. She reached forward and touched him on the arm. He didn’t pull away.
She made him waffles and bacon for breakfast. Waffles and bacon was his favorite breakfast. She pulled out the real maple syrup for the occasion.
Three days later the phone rang early again. Simon got to it first. His mother watched from the doorway to her room.
“This is Simon.”
There was a long pause as he listened.
“Thank you. I’ll let you know soon.”
Simon hung up the phone and turned to look at his mother. She turned back into her room and shut the door.
It was the Navy. The Coast Guard told him he’d have to wait six months until the next class. The Navy wanted him now.
She helped him pack. It wasn’t much. He needed enough clothes and money to get to the base. The Navy would provide everything after that. Mother Navy. A hug goodbye at the bus stop and he got on board. He looked back at her through the window as the bus rolled away. She waved.
“Please don’t go,” she whispered with her hand still in the air.
She recognized the handwriting on the envelope and tore it open.
It’s beautiful here. All green. Lots of birds. You’d like it. We have classes and training. I am learning to shoot a rifle. The classes are good and I’m learning a lot. The PT is hard, though. The obstacle course makes my legs feel like sand. I’ll get better at it as we practice more.
I’ll write again soon.
She made waffles and bacon for herself.
Simon’s next letter came three weeks later.
The weather is warm here and the birds are out in force. I wanted to let you know so you don’t worry, I’ve been separated from training. I fell on the obstacle course. I have a detached retina. The doctors tell me I should be fine but I can’t do anything strenuous for a while. They injected a gas bubble into my eye and I have to sit in a special chair with my face down so the bubble holds the retina in place while it reattaches. There is a mirror underneath me so I can talk to people and watch TV. But it’s still no fun. And I have to wait for another class after I am healed.
I miss you lots.
She briefly considered getting on the next flight but decided against it. She didn’t want to embarrass her son.
The train arrived on time and Simon stepped off. He looked leaner and taller than when he left. She gave him a big hug and he hugged her back.
“There’s still college,” she said.
He went to bed early, but she couldn’t sleep. Her son was home. She sat on the porch and watched the moon and the stars. A mockingbird sang at three o’clock in the morning. She’d read somewhere that only bachelor mockingbirds sang at night. They sang a love song.
At four o’clock she went in. She opened the door to Simon’s room. He lay on top of the covers in his pajamas. He lay on his back with his head slightly back and both arms down at his sides as if at attention.
She reached toward him but stopped for a moment. Then she brushed the edge of his hair so that her touch wouldn’t wake him. He stirred and she drew back and watched him sleep for a few more moments.
Three months later, once again, the phone rang early in the morning. Simon, who was now in the habit of rising early, was there on the second ring. He didn’t want the phone to wake his mother. But it did and she stood in the doorway to her room.
“In a class of thirty-two?”
He waited for a moment during which he looked at his mother.
“You can remove my name from that list.”
They had waffles and bacon for breakfast.