I recently read a poem about a tree from someone's childhood. This made me remember our huge magnolia tree which took up a good footage of our backyard. Back then as a child, it seemed like a tree from the Redwood Forest. It offered shade on a hot summer Georgia day, but come nightfall, it was menacing and spooky. With it's many fallen leaves aground that reminded me of elephant ears, there was always some noise underneath it's darkness. It always sounded as if some was standing underneath,shuffling their feet with the crackling leaves betraying a presence. I pictured the Boogie Man standing there, hiding, watching us inside our open back door. We left the doors open back in late 50's into early 60's. When I would walk to the door, looking out into the night, I always heard movement. The tree was alive with all sorts of strange looking insects. I was one of those fraidy catt kids who screamed bloody murder, carrying on if a bug came near me much like my son does today. He gets it honestly.
As a child, I loved to play with various parts of the flowers of the mighty magnolia. The white petals were velvety to the touch as was another brown part. What I loved most was it's huge center. It was like a big drumstick. We often used them as chicken legs when we played restaurant. Rocks were our potatoes. We'd break that big thing off, pull the red seeds out of it which was followed by a silky thread. I'd pull the thread off, shaking it off my fingers. How I loved those red seeds. I'd put them in my little tin pots and pans, cooking them on my imaginary brick stove on our front porch. My little plastic stove was too small to hold the pots. Later in life when I was grown up enough to don red nail polish, my nails would remind me of those red seeds.
Once upon a time, my childhood playmate, Steve and I decided to collect every every available berry, magnolia seed, tiny peas I loved to pick and shell like blackeyed peas and anything else we could find worthy of cooking. We put them in one of my bigger pots that the handle was missing and cooked them on his Creepy Crawler heating unit. We knew enough by watching our mom's cook to add water to the pot. So we put it on to cook. Being kids, we began playing something else and lost track of time. Much later in the afternoon we remembered our cooking experiement. By then all the water had boiled out of the pot. It wasn't burned black but it was a mess. We tried to get it out with a stick but it wasn't coming out. We didn't know about Pam back then. So instead we decided to trash it without any grown-ups knowledge. That ended our our cooking attempts with Mother Nature. It is still a wonder we did not set Steve's playhouse on fire!
I am not sure if it was because I complained so much about the many bugs or was always thinking someone was underneath the magnolia in our back yard or if my mom got tired of raking all the leaves, but it was cut down. It was strange no longer having that giant standing reaching toward heaven. When I read Jack in the Beanstalk, I imagined Jack climbing our magnolia. The magnolia attempted to come back several times with leaves coming out from the stump. Mom would always tell us to go kick them down so it wouldn't come back. It never did after that.
We had another magnolia tree in the front yard. It had a streetlight near it so it was not as menacing at night to me for some reason. Although someone could have stood underneath it if they could stand the bugs. It still caused a lot of bugs in and around the house. I'd still pull those red seeds out of the core, recalling my childhood. I would do this occassionally into my high school and college years as a reminder. By then I was wearing red nail polish. I'd still associate the two.
One day our dear sweet neighbor Mrs. Mary Chambless was having her many pine trees in front yard cut down from her yard across the street. She lived in the cutest little yellow house with her sickly retired husband Jimmy. They had no children. Mrs. Chambless was always very good to us, giving us money when we went on vacation. From her, I learned how to be a good neighbor, always checking on them. When they were cutting down Mrs. Chambless' trees, my mom asked the tree service how much they would charge to take down our last standing magnolia. If they did it that day, it was a lot cheaper than if they came back. It was a really good deal so Momma told them to cut it down. She used her money she received for doing neighborhood laundy. She wanted to get rid of all the bugs and leaves she'd have to rake or pay the old yard man named Ambrose, who Mrs. Chambless used, to rake the yard.
I don't remember much about magnolias after that. I know they were used in art a lot. There was a nursing home named Magnolia Manor in town. My friend David had a magnolia tree in his yard. I recanted my magnolia tales to him when I first saw his magnolia tree. There was a Magnolia Cafe near Blue Cross when I worked there in the mail room. They had the best beefaroni. On certain days they served it, I would get it to go in a 16 oz styrofoam cup complete with rolls for supper when Don and I were dating. Of course I cannot leave out the movie "Steel Magnolias". I still cannot watch the ending when Julia Robert's character dies without crying so I don't watch it. Just as I don't watch "Kramer vs Kramer".
My friend Bob constantly refers to me as a "Steel Magnolia" because of the strength he feels I have which I love. I have thanked Bob for this honor, but I am not always certain I am made of steel. I do know I am a stong Southern woman and damn proud to be one! I come from a background of strong women on my Momma's side.
As a southern artist, I would love to create a silver magnolia branch as a table figurine. I can just see it lying on a table now in my mind. I'd love to paint magnolias one of these days. All I have managed thus far is to capture it's core as a photograph. Several years ago when I first got my Pentax digital camera, when took the picture and uploaded the image to my friends, I recanated my magnolia tales of playing with those red seeds as a child and how they look like my red fingernails.
I have a photo taken of me holding my son Rhett as a baby at Christmas time. My fingernails were painted red for the Christmas season. One nail is near his mouth. Even then it reminded me of those red magnolia seeds and took me back to my childhood.
copyright Becky Bristow Voyles