Remembering the mulberry tree.

Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to  truth, but not its twin. ~ Barbara Kingsolver

I called my older sister today to ask her questions about odds and ends of memories which have been residing in my brain for a week or two.  She confirmed what I thought I remembered.  The reason I was unsure was because of the age I would have been when certain incidents took place, based on where we lived.  I know that most people don’t remember when they were two or less, but I do.

My recent memories didn’t come out of nowhere.  I did some writing prompts using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away.  These were ten-minute exercises using “I remember…” and I was to do several of them.  I started out in the yard of a house our family lived in when I was very young.  This was a house we moved to when my dad came home from the army.  I was three when he got home.  A year later my little sister was born.  I’m four years older than she.  She’s a baby boomer.  I’m not.  I went from the yard to all manner of memories of people and events while we lived there.  Not all of them are pleasant to recall, but the mulberry tree in that yard was because it was mostly my mulberry tree.

The tree pictured above looks very much like the one I remember.  Notice how dense the branches and foliage are.  Our house stood on a sort of knoll and my mulberry tree was below the house at the foot of the knoll.  I was probably four and five when I would climb up in that tree and watch the world around me.  The branches were low and easy to climb.  Sometimes my brother would join me there.  When the mulberries got ripe I would eat them until I had very purple hands.  I imagine my face looked a bit bruised too.  I don’t remember whether my brother liked the berries.  Not everyone does.  When they’re ripe they look like blackberries, only longer.  I thought they looked like big black caterpillars when I was little.

Here’s the coolest thing about that tree.  Once I got up fairly high and settled on a reasonably sturdy limb, I couldn’t be seen.  There I was observing and learning and hiding.  We lived in the country so we were allowed to play freely.  Probably too freely sometimes.  Eventually my mom would call me.  I would answer, “I’m down here.”  Mom would say, “Come on up here.  You’ll have those old mulberries all over you.”  My sister told me today that I used to ruin all my panties by sitting on “those old mulberries.”

Thinking about hiding in that tree so long ago gives me a lot to ponder.  I spent a great deal of my childhood and teenage years hiding from my family.  Why?  So many reasons.  My father was an alcoholic.  My mother was an enabler and a nervous wreck.  I had two little sisters and I was often charged with caring for them.  Our life was pretty chaotic a lot of the time.  I think the hiding still haunts me and who I am today.  And certainly who I was in both of my failed marriages.  What serves you well as a survival skill when you’re a child no longer serves well when you’re an adult.  Alas, those early-formed patterns are not so easy to change even when we recognize them for what they were and are.

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8 thoughts on “Remembering the mulberry tree.

  1. Dear Pat,

    This is so true, and I also agree with counting ducks and Shades of Matter. Most of the protective behaviours I learnt in childhood are now counter-productive but I cannot seem to shake them. And I guess the idea that we spend our adult lives trying to heal the wounds of childhood seems very plausible… Thinking about the wounds my children will have to contend sends a chill down my spine!
    Anyway, I loved this very touching snippet of the life of little Pat, thank you!

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  2. I can relate to your story as I am sure many can on some level. I remember reading somewhere that as adults we spend our life healing the wounds of our childhood. Although it haunts you, I hope you can also honour your childhood and teenage years. All of it helped you become the wonderful person you are today.

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  3. Thanks, Deb. That’s a sweet (and maybe telling) song. I, too, escaped via books as soon as I learned to read. But sometimes the book couldn’t shut out the clamor so I would take it up the tree with me or on the hillside under a tree. No wonder trees are so special to me.

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  4. In addition to writing a song for my mom, I wrote one for my sister. She calls it “Elven Girl,” but it’s “Little Sister” to me. It starts:

    Little sister, come and play
    High up the tree, further than me
    Like always, this bright and carefree day

    My siblings and I all escaped via books, but it didn’t occur to me until I read this that my sister might not always have been playing when she climbed up the tree out of everyone’s reach. I wonder if it was a hideaway for her, too.

    The tree’s gone now, and the house is no longer ours, but I always remember her up in that (not-mulberry) tree.

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  5. This is so true. In many ways the coping measures I learnt as one of the younger siblings in a large family have hindered me in adult life. It took me a long time to realise this, and I havn’t been able to do much about it. Funny how the behaviour which works so well in one environment can be so counter -prodctive in another.

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    • I think it’s very difficult to change those coping measures into something that works as an adult. For me it’s all about communication with those around me. I find it shocking sometimes that a language person like me could have such difficulty communicating with those I love. It’s something I have to focus on and try to improve on constantly.

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  6. Ah yes the memories – you got me thinking about my earliest memories! So I’ve had a lovely run down my childhood lane!

    As to the patterns created in childhood. A great deal of what Stephen (life coach) has been teaching and guiding me through is all to do with the rules we set in our childhoods. Rules that were fine for us then but are no longer valid now. Seeing our now ex’s use their childhood rules (which is what both of ours have done I believe) are good examples of the rules no longer working. Seeing these rules or patterns in ourselves can be tough but recognising what we are doing is the first step to changing them and working to create better rules by which to live now. And that’s a large part of what I’ve been through – and am still going through. It is that which I know will give me a better future – one which will in a cliched view “set me free” to be the me I should and need to be now.

    Great to see you are your own Life Coach!!!

    Hugs

    Caroline
    xxx

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    • I’m glad your “run down childhood lane” was lovely. Yesterday after my sister and I beat the hell out of our negative memories, we went to work on the fun ones and got some good belly laughs. We really do make a special effort to find the fun times and when we do that we find that we have quite a lot of them.

      I would have to say that I’ve been blessed with a number of “life coaches” over the years.

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