It was always a secret favorite thing to do; to wake early and slip outside into the salty morning air, walk barefoot along the dewy grass across the lawn and up to the Water Oak. We had built a little ladder, Russell and I; just a few steps to get us off the ground high enough to reach our arms up and around the lowest hanging branch, then heave ourselves into the hidden basin, the hollowed out sacred place in the middle of the trunk, right where the branches began their journey, pulling apart and reaching up towards the sky; winding their arms high above our heads to shake their leaves at heaven.
I would nestle deep into that hollowed basin, sniffing the tree bark, inhaling it with the deepest breath I could take; it was the smell of the Water Oak that I craved everyday; it was the scent of sand and oyster shells, of fireworks and sugar cane; and it smelled the way my daddy’s voice sounded when we were swimming in the shallows and he was teaching me to reach my arms deep into the wave, stretch out with each long stroke to glide across the water like he did. It smelled exactly like that.
And it was that smell that I craved most after Long Beach was gone; when we made brief visits and I would walk over to the tree, lean into it; its hollowed branches no longer able to lift me up, support my weight; but it always offered up its scent, the comfort of its magic after everything was gone.
Long Beach was my home; my only home. It didn’t matter that I never really lived there, was only allowed to visit; didn’t get to spend entire summers the way Russell and Davis did.
What mattered was that whenever I leaned into the tree, or lifted a shell from the driveway, I came back to me; came back to my dad.
From my book: Water Oak: The Happiness of Longing
From my newest book Water Oak for my dad on Father’s Day: There was an old tire swing that Grandpa had hung from a branch of our water oak at the top of the yard. He’d hung it there with thick rough rope, the kind he used to tie a skiff to its anchor, or toss over a piling to secure his ferryboat to the Algiers dock.
I’d learned to hold on tight, wrap my arms firmly around the rope, even though it was scratchy and weathered, gnarly as the tree trunk; I’d sit on top of that tire, hugging the coarse rope, and dad would push me higher and higher until I was truly flying, as high as the tallest branches in the oak tree, soaring effortlessly, breezily, above our yard and its white shell driveway and my cousin Russell waiting below on the bench eager for his turn.
I’d swing high above my dad laughing as he pushed me, laughing while I giggled; and high enough to see Aunt BeeDee sewing new curtains with little sailboats printed on them for the boys room and Uncle Warren settling in to watch a baseball game with Grandpa in his living room, and my brothers and Davis playing pick-up-sticks near the TV while Grandma cooked her magic gumbo in the kitchen; I would soar above all of it, flying free, knowing that this was the thing; this lovely moment was everything; that the way my daddy loved me was all I would ever need to get far above everything that mattered, above everything that wounded; just a push of love and I could fly.
I would give this to Sarah; she would be loved extraordinarily; the push I’d give her would be enough to send her soaring above anything that wounded, above anything not good enough. She would have Long Beach. I would give her that.
-from my book Water Oak: The Happiness of Longing now available in paperback on Amazon.