The title for this post has me humming the delightful Peter, Paul & Mary song by the same name. But my story about the overgrown lemon tree in my backyard does not carry a song. It does, however, accompany a painting that I finished last week.
Before I start my story, I explain that I am living in my childhood home. I moved there after my separation and subsequent divorce eight years ago. At that time, my father had recently died and my mother was in a nursing home. My mother passed away one year later.
I am still here.
The 60-year-old fence that surrounds my lemon tree is barely holding up. In the drabness of my patio, my lemon tree is thriving. It has weathered many years of neglect and remains in its original wooden planter. The roots eventually broke through the bottom and firmly took hold. Without being watered for a decade, it somehow survived.
It was always handy to have a lemon at my disposal whenever a recipe called for one, but this past year I began appreciating its beauty. A month ago I snapped pictures of its blossoms, which I added into my painting. I marveled at the change when the green fruit hinted slowly toward yellow.
I could write endless parables about the metaphor of a lemon. But my story begins with the memory of my mother bringing home a lemon bush for my father. He always required lemons for his hot tea and there would be no shortage of lemons this way.
That was about thirty years ago. Back then it was still possible to walk through the patio. But just to reach a lemon required navigating a maze of boxes covered with tarps.
My father was a hoarder. He was unable to throw things away and gradually the back yard filled up with countless boxes and trash. As the years went on, his condition worsened.
When I remember my parents having disagreements, they’re always the same ones. My mother would be furious with my father for adding to his trash collection. He would beg for forgiveness and my mother would make him sign an “agreement” where he promised he would throw away one box every day.
If he didn’t, my mother threatened she would do it. I don’t believe she ever did. Eventually, she’d realize that he was simply taking away a box and moving it somewhere else. With exasperation, she would hold it together until the next fight.
I accepted that I barely had any closet space growing up because of my father’s “stuff.” The plus side was that he saved all my report cards, schoolwork and every piece of my artwork.
Despite his frailty, my father would occasionally leave the nursing home to visit his coop with my oldest son. He wanted to give him pointers as to where coins and stamps might be buried. But he still wasn’t able to find them or discard anything.
I wasn’t able to move into the abandoned coop until it was emptied of trash. After my father died, my oldest son helped me by spending many hours emptying it. He filled up ten dumpsters.
I appreciated that my son was able to sort through and save the sentimental items I now treasure. At that time, I wasn’t well enough to do much because I was recovering from cataract surgery.
My story leads now to my “former life,” when I had a huge house, a housekeeper, and three complicated teenagers.
I’ll never forget my father’s vulnerability, when he expressed that he wasn’t able to take care of my mother anymore. Her frequent hospitalizations had worn him down and he was scared.
At that point, I had my parents move in with me. The plan was that my parents would live with me until there was an opening at The Jewish Home For the Aging.
As my mother slid into dementia, my father and I became very close and he became dependent upon me. I feel emotional remembering his attachment to a steaming hot mug of Lipton tea.
It now became my job to brew his favorite drink. I tried really hard to get it right. And one day, his lips trembled as he told me, “Sweetheart, it’s wonderful! – Just the right amount of lemon this time. Be sure to remember what you did!”
He was extremely critical and rarely did I get it right. I basked in his compliment. I was happy and sad at the same time, because it wasn’t easy to replace my mother.
The memory of when he asked me if he could stay and my mother could go to The Jewish Home alone is a sad one. His voice was practically begging when he said he would quietly live in his grandson’s bedroom. His word were, “You won’t even notice me and I won’t be any trouble.” My heart breaks remembering our conversation.
Keeping him and my mother together as their health declined engulfed my life for several years. This blog helped me vent about my struggles while I was going through them.
What a contrast to my current life! I miss my parents, but now I can peacefully appreciate and gain insight from even the most painful memories. I feel their love surrounding me and I’m so grateful.
I’m also blessed that I am able to paint lovely pictures of any subject I choose. For me, painting is about seeing contrast, color and beauty.
“Lemon Tree” began with a main photo as my reference. The scene was busy and crowded with dirty leaves. But right away I was intrigued by the interesting texture of the branches. I combined other reference objects (blossoms, leaves, green lemons) into the main photo below.
Creating my layout was fun. Perhaps I am living my childhood again. I share something I wrote at the age of eight below:
I treasure my emotions, because over this past year I have felt very numb. Writing this story evoked so many beautiful feelings.
My father also saved all the cards I ever gave him. This one below made me teary from the start. But then I laughed aloud when I read the part where I told him he could go through my trash anytime.
And after that, I cried again.