Camphor trees are invasive noxious, weeds that damage sewers and drain systems and are actually outlawed in some places. I knew and cared nothing of that at 10 years old and, in fact, loved the large camphor tree that grew directly behind my maternal grandparents’ home.
That tree anchored the large yard of the cozy family compound where I dwelled for the first 10 years of my life. No one landscaped at that time, and the yard, with the exception of Grandma’s fig preserve tree, was an assortment of trees planted by God with an assist from birds, squirrels or wind. Each water oak and pecan, the Japanese plum and the wild persimmon hold a special place in memory.
Elaborate play sets for children were rare, but neighborhood kids and I found use and enjoyment in what was there. The trees provided welcome shade, and plenty of open space remained for tag, as well as hidden crevices for hide and seek. Home plate, a pitcher’s mound and bases appeared when baseball fever struck.
The camphor tree held three easy-to-reach perches for a pilot, co-pilot and navigator to carry out pretend World War II bombing missions. The glossy green leaves and branches filled the air with a marvelous medicine smell when crushed.
It never occurred to me that my idyllic existence would ever change. No one told me that Grandpa suffered from the ravages of diabetes and congestive heart failure, and his death came as a complete shock to me.
Life continued after the funeral, but Grandma was listless, Mama was edgy and mourning permeated the air. Grandpa no longer sat in his green recliner smoking unfiltered Camels while watching John Cameron Swayze report the news.
Grandma no longer cooked rice and gravy every day. Life had changed, and then it changed again in the summer of 1961.
One typically hot humid day, trucks filled with workmen pulled into the yard and surrounded my grandparents’ house. Excitement spread throughout the neighborhood as children and adults gathered.
To my complete horror, workmen murdered my camphor tree. They tore it limb from limb and left it to die on the ground, the smell of camphor oil in the air.
After the tree was removed, the old house I had spent many happy hours in was lifted onto a huge truck and rolled away. The folks who had gathered to watch the show milled about in a festive mood.
Completely unprepared for what had happened, I was devastated and heartbroken. If I could have traveled into the future and brought back a song to fit the moment it would have been “There’s a Hole in the World Tonight” by the Eagles.
Life still changes and then changes again and, while I don’t like it, I handle it better now.
— Granger lives in New Iberia
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