A tradition of transition
By Claudia Watson
Strapped high up in a tupelo gum tree that was obviously more native than I was, the tree-trimmer set his pruning saw against a limb and said, “So, how’d ya get here?”
“Well, it’s the tree you’re in,” I said.
He looked down through the limbs. “This tree?”
“Yep,” I said. “That’s why I take good care of it.”
My husband, Roger, and I were tidying up the house he was selling in Fayetteville — his home for nearly 30 years with the Special Forces — and he suggested we take a ride to Southern Pines for my birthday lunch and to look at some property.
I jumped at the chance for a day trip but wasn’t interested in settling any place other than Virginia. For the better part of 25 years, I’d been building a life and business there. But as we traveled the back roads from Fort Bragg to Southern Pines, the desolate beauty spellbound me. Just as we arrived in Southern Pines, a CSX train blasted its horn and crawled down the center of town. As we waited for our lunch, fluffy snowflakes began to fall.
“So, it snows in North Carolina?” I teased. Roger’s eyes flashed over the rim of his glass of sweet tea. He detested the winters and the traffic in northern Virginia. Afterward, we walked down Broad Street enjoying the sound of new fallen snow, as soft as the train whistle was loud. That’s when I saw an old, dented red pickup truck with a cardboard sign leaned against its fender and the hand-scrawled words, “Mistletoe $5.”
I thought the sign was a scam. Mistletoe comes in little white boxes tied with a red ribbon. It’s in the produce section in the grocery stores in northern Virginia during the holidays.
“What is this?” I asked the owner of the truck as I eyed the clumps of greenery that looked more like the remains of a lousy pruning job.
The man shifted his eyes to my husband.
“It’s mistletoe,” he said.
“No way,” I challenged. “Where are the berries?”
He looked me up and down, reassuring himself that I was not from the South, pulled out a clump and showed me the waxy berries.
“Where’s it from?” I asked.
“Treetops,” the mistletoe man said.
“What do you mean, treetops?” I asked.
“We shoot it out.”
“Huh?” I groaned.
“With a shotgun,” he said, whirling away from me and raising his eyes and hands to the sky.
I looked at Roger, the North Carolinian, holding back laughter. He handed the man a five, and we walked away with a clump of mistletoe and headed back to Fayetteville.
Weeks later, Roger asked me to go back to look at the property he’d been researching while on work trips from Virginia to Fort Bragg. Over dinner, he eased a map toward me. Three lots were circled, accompanied by cryptic notes I took to be some sort of indecipherable Special Forces code.
He insisted we go back to Pinehurst. The drive down I-95 was unbearable as I sat glumly in the truck while he told me about the pros — no cons, of course — of each lot and of his home state.
We looked at all three sites. At the last one, he sprinted to the back edge of the property line and waved his arms, pointing to the golf course view, and then where the sun would rise. He pointed out the abundance of dogwoods, the old-growth longleaf pine, the sassafras, native blueberry plants, inkberry and the red-tailed hawks in the sky. I was not impressed.
While he used red string to plot out a home site, I dug in my heels under the shade of a nearby tree. It was one of the few that looked like a real tree to me.
I thought, “How did this happen?” I don’t want this. I want our home in Virginia. I looked up through the canopy of the tree. Then, I saw it, not in the top of the tree, but jutting out from the trunk only inches from my head. I saw the glossy dark green leaves and the palest berries.
If the ancient Druids thought it possessed mystical powers, warded off evil spirits and brought good luck to the household, it was good enough for me.
We moved to Pinehurst a year later, built our home, and for 14 holiday seasons, I clipped a sprig of real mistletoe for our doorway from that tree.
“You know,” my tree-trimmer said, picking up his saw, “it’s interesting you saved this tree being it’s so close to your house. It’s a tupelo gum, a native tree. Most folks rip ’em out.”
Instead, its roots grew deeper. PS
Claudia Watson is a Pinehurst resident and a longtime contributor to PineStraw and The Pilot.