“Chinaberry Tree” – by Debbie Ambrous

"Honey, I couldn't find a flowerpot.  Will this work?"

“Honey, I couldn’t find a flowerpot. Will this work?”

Do you want me to plant a tree in my old Acura since it’s all banged up from the hurricane when that huge tropical tree fell on it in Coconut Grove? I could drive the car around the yard and instantly have a shady spot for my barbecue parties!

I replied to Jim’s brilliant idea: “No, I don’t want any mobile landscaping. Thank you very much, indeed!

IMG_8222Why weren’t you laughing at this crazy picture that you took of the old, blue pickup with the popup forest instead of a hood? I think it’s hilarious. You were eyeing the picture on the computer with the same faraway look you have when you gaze at that old picture of me on the wall above your desk.”

I agreed to tell Jim my thoughts if he promised not to laugh, knowing that he wasn’t likely to keep his promise.

It all started like this in the hot afternoon sun in the center of the large yard by a double-wide mobile home outside of town. An old, blue pickup which will never haul any bird dogs off to hunt, or carry a load of groceries home from Publix again was going nowhere. IMG_8109 No, the days of glory on the country roads ended right there in plain daylight for everyone to see its ignominious ending. Now with the final days of rust and rot upon the declining blue pickup, it sadly slept in the sun a short distance from the highway of shiny pickups and flashy cars. That is, until I called our red Jeep to a halt and slung my camera bag over my shoulder, the old blue pickup rusted and rested in peace.

The tree growing from the engine area of the old pickup wasn’t just any old tree. I recognized the feathery green branches immediately and knew it was a chinaberry tree. IMG_8193These fast-growing trees are found at old home places and in fence rows, but they are not planted as landscaping at newer homes. Something about the new tree growing in that old engine spoke to me

Jim couldn’t keep his silence at that last statement. He blurted out, “And, what did the tree tell you? Take my picture from this angle. My left side is best! Ha.. ha … ha!!

I reminded him: “You promised not to laugh. Tell me. What do you know about chinaberry trees?

Jim shared his knowledge: “Those hard, green berries were good to use in home-made popguns when I was little.

I asked the popgun expert: “What did you shoot at?”

Offering info before I read his Miranda rights, Jim bragged: “Trees, bottles, tin cans and my sister!

Not impressed, I replied: “Glad I didn’t know you then. You probably would have shot at me, also.”

Quick to get out of a spot like usual, he gave me a sidewise grin and said: “Nah, you would have been too cute.”IMG_8221

Going on from the interruption, I told Jim that around the same time that he was trying to shoot his sister with a popgun I was climbing a chinaberry tree to escape my brother Tim, his annoying friends and dish washing chores. The chinaberry tree grew in my backyard near the kitchen window where Mama kept an eye on me. A few short planks were nailed to the tree so I could climb quickly to my leafy hideaway, not very high from the ground, but far enough for an escape. Like an up-stretched hand, the tree limbs grew to each side with an open center where I would play and dream by myself.

I could see a chicken pen far to the edge of the yard where white chickens were pecking around for worms and the scraps that I threw on them. Yes, you read that right. I think I threw more food scraps on the hens than on the ground. I’ve admitted to a mean streak now, or at least mischievous. Why didn’t those fussy hens line up along the fence and wait for their lunch instead of rushing like a line-backer to the exact spot where I tossed their lunch? Then, they wouldn’t have worn shriveled English peas and dried-out biscuits to strut around in the afternoon sun. Oh, maybe Jim should have shot me with his popgun!

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My sweet, young sister Rachel had a pet chicken among the brood. Only one of the chickens would allow her to pet and cuddle which caused her to meet some angry hens with flying feathers when she chose the wrong white chicken.

I wonder what these French chickens would have socialized in our Alabama chicken pen.

I wonder if these French chickens would have socialized in our Alabama chicken pen.

French hens and a rooster leading them on ..

French hens and a rooster leading the way

Rachel solved that problem by opening a can of black paint in Daddy’s shop and painting one of her pet chicken’s wings! Blackie stood out in the pen, a newly-detailed chicken for my cute little sister who outsmarted the bird-brained critters.

A larger and taller tree was in my future, the sweet gum tree which was growing and stretching its limbs into the sky waiting for me to do the same. I still cannot smell sweet gum leaves without memories of climbing so high I could almost see downtown. Next to the sweet gum tree we had a giraffe slide. I saw Jim’s eyes widen, and I assured him that I did have a giraffe slide, not imaginary at all. Daddy could make almost anything in his shop. The kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McGill, brought some plans to him and asked him to build a giraffe slide for her class. (CLICK here if you would like to see giraffe slide pictures.) Daddy did better than that. He built two! The kindergarteners had their slide, and we had our own slide with fewer kids to share the fun.

Mama planted pretty purple coleus under the shady branches of the tree on one side. I liked the bed of bright purple leaves. Somewhere deep inside the little tree climber’s mind, the colorful mix of coleus and the lavender blooms on the chinaberry tree planted a first love of flowers.IMG_8140The comforting center of my chinaberry tree was a good place to hide when I felt sad. I remember rushing there after school to forget the paint box incident. My elementary school  teacher kept all of the bottles of paint for artwork in a wooden box. One day she had the box on the floor near the sink at the back of the classroom, and I accidentally stepped into it. I was so embarrassed, absolutely horrified! I stood there in class with paint splashed on my legs and the skirt of my pretty dress, hoping no one would notice my tears. It never crossed my mind, not even until now, that the box was an accident just waiting to happen and not my fault at all. Sitting in my tree with the breezes blowing through and the chickens clucking below, I felt secure.

I told Jim that I remembered all of this when I discovered the chinaberry tree growing in the old, blue pickup. I learned something new about the old tree. The chinaberry was introduced to the United States by a French botanist! Yes, that’s right. There I was in my childhood playing away in a tree brought to America by a French botanist.

Jim had held his tongue as long as he could. Then he said, “When that chinaberry tree spoke to you, did it speak in French?

IMG_8196Information on the tree from University of Florida: “A native of Asia, chinaberry and was brought to the U.S. in the late 1700’s by a French botanist. chinaberry has been used over the years as an ornamental plant, shade tree, and fuel wood. There are also some medicinal applications for chinaberry including a peptide isolated from leaf tissue that is effective against the herpes simplex virus. Unfortunately, chinaberry has all the qualities of a successful weed. This plant is adaptable to many environmental conditions, is virtually disease and insect free, and thrives in disturbed or open areas.”

July 18th was an anniversary for my blog which began on that date in 2012. July 22nd was the 48th anniversary for Jim and me. We posted this cow and the silly quote on Facebook and I couldn’t resist doing it again.

"Something in the way she MOOS attracts me like no UDDER lover!

“Something in the way she MOOS attracts me like no UDDER lover!

No animals, or husbands, were harmed in this episode.

Thank you for joining us again! Take care and ya’ll come back!

CLICK HERE for your copy of "A French Opportunity" Thank you!

CLICK HERE for your copy of “A French Opportunity” Thank you!