Location: marengo, il, United States

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Hummingbird Tree

During winter, it wraps the house like a mean death. A twisting shape trapped, frozen arms tossed upwards to the skies, brittle fingers reaching, clinging to hang on, caught frozen in its final desperate moment of agonies. During spring, it can surprise you.

I hurried from the kitchen to fetch young Eli. The house lay stilled at this early hour, with both shades drawn in the front room, so I walked softly to where the staircase lay, cupping hot mocha with both of my hands. I tiptoed slowly up the steep incline, inching my way cautiously, careful to avoid the two steps that creaked loudest. Then after nudging his door open with a shoulder, I entered the boy’s room without spilling a drop of this elixir. Tiny bright pinpricks of light dotted the yellowed blinds, while dark shapes of unkempt things lay about the floor.

Only the boy’s arm stuck out from under the heaped covers. I stopped and stood next to his upper bunk bed, and I waited, holding the brew. I never spoke.

One eye fluttered, and then another peered out from under a tightly furrowed brow. A silent question formed in both eyes, and the boy stirred slightly. His head, first raising an inch, came a little higher. The cup in my hand followed along in his line of sight, matching his movement. He propped himself up on an elbow, and he spoke his mind.

“What’s this?”

I held it close, and he peered in.

“What is it, dad?”

I set the cup, with its two sugars and a third cream, on his night stand as I explained.

“The hummingbirds have returned.”

Up until now, this thirteen-year old child had never once tasted coffee. I then turned and left my middle son, leaving him to dress and join me outside near the evergreen bush, where white plastic chairs and a round table awaited the two of us. Stopping in the kitchen first to refill my own cup, I rushed out to take a seat in one facing an ancient storage shed behind our house.

Giant fragrant blossoms, shaded from the morning rays of the sun, floated among the leafy bush that, over many years of time, grew to its present impressive stature close to our back door. These flowers of this monster of a plant attracted a pair of feeding hummingbirds, and according to my watch, they were due here any minute.

The trunk of this pervasive encroacher, gnarled and feathery, came up out of the ground like a mythical bean stalk, and had long claimed its rightful place by entwining fast-growing tendrils up and under and around the gutters, even taking the shingled roof over as its own. The storm door squeaked. Eli, shirt untucked, and in the process of learning not to spill, edged his way out slow.

Saturday morning, and traffic is sparse; almost nonexistent. He takes a seat beside me, and the warmth of this fresh new day is shared. He stares vacantly at the grass between us and the shed as he takes his first sip. He sets the cup gently in his lap and looks down at it. Then he looks up at me and smiles his first of the day.

“I like it.”

And then a sudden silent and a flitting, and one appears. It darts from over the ridge of the roof, and its incandescence hovers briefly at one of the brilliant orange blooms living up high. I quietly point to the blurry silhouette outlined against the blue backdrop, and Eli, his broadening shoulders back, looks to see.

He takes another slow sip, his eyes focused hard on the tiny creature, and we both sit and enjoy the life.

This was his time, as I had intended it to be, but we, my young son and I both, will cherish this moment forever.


Blogger Ned said...

What a lovely story. Beautiful. What lucky children they are.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Ned, I am still learning to count.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

Beautiful indeed. And so well described, we feel the anticipation and the wonder. Very, very good, Harry. For a while we sat there with you, awaiting the hummingbirds.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Harvey Young said...

Great story Harry. I sat here reading and could picture your son. This makes me continue to look forward to such moments with my boys as they grow up.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

What a magical moment to have one's first taste of a grownup beverage. He will always associate that taste with the coming of spring, and with hummingbirds.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I really loved this story, it was just so innocent and sweet. I am always overly fond of stories with dads in them, and now I realize I am also very fond of Harry's stories in general.

3:04 PM  
Blogger glenniah said...

Fantastic story! You write to all our senses, (well except for one of mine which is sadly lacking.) Thank you for the pictures you portray in my mind

BTW you didn't have the last word over Ned. I did.

4:52 AM  
Blogger glenniah said...

Fantastic story! You write to all our senses, (well except for one of mine which is sadly lacking.) Thank you for the pictures you portray in my mind

BTW you didn't have the last word over Ned. I did.

4:53 AM  
Blogger glenniah said...

By the Way, Way. You were in to Amway also huh? Didn't you love those praise and testimony meetings where they all clapped and said Praise Amway, Praise Amway. I always waited for someone to say at the end, Let us Pray to the god Amway. yes I was in the company for awhile, thank goodness it is behind me also

5:00 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Amway -- the American Way. I don't know how it went down in your neck of the woods, Glen, but here the fire burned hot for a year. "Hello." Standing in line at 7-11, the man in front of me turned around, surprised. I asked him the hook, and fifteen minutes later we both sat in my living room, him with the hungry eyes, and me with my chalk board, drawing circles and him both.

"Are you making all the money you'd like?"

Who can resist that?

White leather shoes, a broad white belt, PMA and a dream of riches beyond comprehension put my budding art career, my 12 years of military service and a marriage of eight aside as I went whole-hog after money. I bet we could tell some stories.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

Who dares to insult the great god Amway? Now, allow me to demonstrate this amazing metal cleaner...

9:12 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Good gosh amighty! Now ain't that just incredible! Sign me up, Sam, and tell me; where can I get some shoes like yours? Did you not say there are Winnebego's in my future?

9:21 AM  

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