Sunday afternoon I was sitting gratefully under the shade of a pecan tree, whose leaves are shaped like a peach tree’s leaves, in my estimation. We grew up with an old peach tree in our yard, but I think trees prefer to be called “mature,” instead of old. Our peach tree was perfectly situated behind the old carriage house, which had a low slanted roof from the back grading up toward the front of the building, which my parents used for lawnmower, tiller and large garden tool storage and a workshop for my Uncle Tom when he would visit in the summer. I could pretty easily get myself up into that peach tree and climb its super sticky branches onto the back roof of the carriage house. The tree’s branches were just tall enough to offer my tiny self and her book a modicum of shade over the just-right-sized spot on that scalding carriage house roof. The downside to being up there was, of course, the sap stuck to my fingers, which then smeared from page to every turned page.
There was also the day I discovered our cat’s — it was either Cupcake’s or Twinkie’s — collar wedged up in that peach tree, which he’d promptly gone and configured himself out of the moment Mom brought him back from a very embarrassing (for him) trip to the Vet. Being butt-less in the wilds of outdoor cat living was an ego-blow he had to face head-on, no collar to announce his coming. He may have lost the fight that landed him at the vet and cost him both his tail and his derriere, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to walk around with his head held in place for him. I am pretty sure the day I discovered and delivered that missing cone to my mother was the last time she ever paid for any pet’s veterinary needs again. We were always a menagerie; there were just too many of us not to be.
In the sixth grade our classroom moved outside for a week — it was called Camp Greentop — and (thank you, Google, I just learned that) from 1957 through 1996, every student in Frederick County, Maryland, “enjoyed the opportunity to make a national park their school.” Another fun fact just learned by me 30+ years after attending Camp Greentop is that it was the second of three camps designed and built in the Catoctin Mountains, with the third camp of that 1930’s construction era being Camp David. My time at that camp as an excessively skinny prepubescent girl predisposed to climbing sappy trees to enjoy quality alone time with her books (and none of her seven siblings), was both enlightening and embarrassing.
We went on actual nature hikes for class, looking at and learning every type of leaf associated with every type of tree that our precious slice of the Catoctin Mountain showcased. We were shepherded late at night onto a large open field, most certainly with a fairy ring in its center, for a class of star-gazing, learning and looking for the constellations visible on a late starry night in May. We scoured the woods for flowers and poison ivy, touching and picking none of them. Also I peed my pants during one of our day hikes because I was a new 12-year-old who didn’t know who to tell or who to ask or where there might be a tree behind which I could — no, I could not — hold it. And, no, I didn’t, couldn’t, tell anyone. I relocated myself to last in line and raced my way back to my cabin as soon as I was back in camp, surreptitiously swapping my under and outerwear before my high school senior counselor found me for mess hall responsibilities.
It turns out that I was in the stingingly painful throes of my first ever bladder infection, but I didn’t know that until I got home at the end of my week at Camp Greentop, bringing with me my wonder and my shame, racing to the laundry room to put my under and outerwear into the washer, an extra scoop of soap to be extra sure no one would know. I wanted to climb up the peach tree with my book du jour, get covered up in sap and sticky fingers, surrounded by leaves I now knew were: deciduous. Instead, our 60-year-old babysitter sent me with her husband to see our family doctor, also a man. So my longing to climb up the peach tree and pry loose my embarrassment to leave it behind was never realized. I got spotted immediately by our old babysitter, who was probably just matronly and mature and understood things I couldn’t see or say. Mrs. Perry was perfectly-situated to ask me where there might be a tree behind which I might be hiding. Cupcake or Twinkie, whichever brother it was who got his butt bit off in that late-night fight — turns out that he and I aren’t cone wearers after all.