Monday, 25 February 2013

My Grandmother's Plum Tree (Dzidra's Plum)

By +Katrina Siks  February 23, 2012 

I cannot wait to meet the bench I will have for the rest of my life. 

Last fall, Dennis and Mike looked on with enthusiasm as we cut into the tree trunk for the first time to reveal the inner workings of my Grandmother’s plum tree. It was a tricky cut - the trunk was an unconventional size; no one would normally mill a tree this small because the wood wouldn’t fit normal specs. 

The hues revealed caused my eyes to widen, shocks of purple bolting along the bark and pinks playfully threading through the grain.  I learned from Dennis that this colour had been left behind by bacteria that the tree had battled with for years. In the wood’s twisted shape and beautiful struggle, I also see my grandmother’s hard but beautiful life, and my imagination harkens back to a time before I was born.

Her hands were full of the hope of youth when she placed the fruit trees in the ground - one cherry, one pear, and “two plum trees, one for Papa and one for me”, my Grandmother said. For the young family from Latvia, hardworking factory workers, the trees were a lifetime of fruit - nourishment, enjoyment, a celebration of once again owning their own land in a new country. 

There would be years of banging pots in battle with the squirrels for those last few days before the cherries were ripe; years of over-indulgence in the fruit wine bubbling in the basement, while dancing the night away to polish polka records. The trees grew tall and filled the small Brampton backyard, just off McMurchy Avenue. Later they would entice a few grandchildren; eagerly I would gather the brightly coloured plums off the low branches and pop them straight in my mouth. 

When years were good, there was fruit. When years grew harder, there was still fruit. The struggle with Alzheimers lay Papa in bed for years, my Grandmother all the while at his side. When we laid his tree down with him it’s base was so decomposed that it just took a bit of rocking back and forth. “Papa’s tree died with him, and I’ll die when my tree dies”, my Grandmother said calmly, gazing out the window. 

In 2011, I pruned her plum tree way back, and left the last long branch still bearing leaves. My grandmother grew weaker. The winter of 2012 wasn’t particularly cold or long, it was just another winter, but one too many. The tree and my grandmother didn’t make it through.
Her tree took more effort to fell, the weight of the trunk substantial, still filled with sap and the struggle to live.  While the Brampton home was selling quickly, my thoughts regarding the tree were moving slowly – I couldn’t quite let it go to the roadside to be taken off for mulching and decomposition in the nearest dump. 

On my last trip of moving furniture and photos, I threw the trunk in my car, hoping that it would not become yet one more sentimental object that I trucked around without putting to good use. 

I called Dennis on a whim, perhaps hoping to borrow tools or hear a suggestion of how to care for this wood, but what he offered was far more valuable. “We’ll mill the trunk, and create something unique out of it”, he said, and what I heard was the  offer to breathe new life into my grandmother’s tree.

It’s been a few months now, and it’s ready - a bench! Just awaiting pick up. I feel so incredibly grateful to have met Dennis and Mike when I did, and for them to have taken this project on.  The memory of my Grandparents will live on in my house as a beautiful and functional creation,  a storytelling piece for the rest of my life.


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