My family occupied a green and white, four-bedroom split-level on Stafford Drive until I was nine years old. In the backyard of that house, tucked into a far corner beyond the pool and the shed and the swing set, stood a grand old tree, its genus unknown. The tree was tall and dark with long, heavy branches, the tips of which bowed to touch the roof of a treehouse that my father had built. The trunk of the tree, wide and rough, was rooted just beyond a wooden fence that bordered our lawn.
A long time after we moved away from that house to another in the same part of town, my father shared a secret with me about that tree beyond the fence. Every autumn, he said one autumn, it loses all of its leaves in a single day. Whether the day was windy or calm he would go to work early that morning and see, as he backed his car out of the garage, that the tree was so full of color it could burst, its leaves dry and brittle, papery wisps of red and orange and yellow, and he would return that same evening to find only branches and a trunk, the roof of the treehouse carpeted in blazing foliage. He told me, did my father, that one year in the fall his mother, who had been staying with us in that four-bedroom split-level on an extended visit from Florida, turned a kitchen chair to the window and watched that tree for one whole day while my siblings and I were at school and confirmed what my dad had already known, that it did, in fact, ready itself for the winter all at once.
That's one of my favorite memories, my grandmother and the tree, and even though it isn't mine I still hold onto to it as if it belongs to me. Whenever it comes back, usually in the autumn and usually when I'm missing home very much, it plays in my mind like a storybook illustrated in watercolors and I can't help but think how lovely it would be to live in that storybook for awhile, to sit with my grandmother, who's gone now, at the kitchen table of the house I grew up in and look out onto the backyard on a crisp October afternoon, mugs of hot coffee warm in our hands, homemade soup or stew filling the house with warmth from the stove, and getting up only to greet my parents at the door when they return from their jobs, to take their jackets and invite them to sit for a while.
(Illustration: Dayna Barley-Cohrs)