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Persimmon tree triggers childhood memories

Jan Hearne • May 14, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Sometimes it pays to look up.

After a bit of a wait in the doctor’s office the other day, I lay my head back and looked up at the ceiling. I was surprised to find a photo there, lovely and well lighted, of a tree in winter with orange fruit clinging to its branches.

It took me a second to recognize it as a persimmon tree, but as soon as I did, I felt a pit of dread in my stomach.

The fall of 1965, I started eighth grade at West Hills School in Knoxville. In order to get to school, I had to walk by the persimmon tree, which I loved, to West Hills, which I did not love.

From first through seventh grades I had been sheltered in Catholic schools, and my first experience with public education was dismaying.

The kids seemed so much more mature, and by mature, I mean confident. They also seem to have avoided or moved beyond that awkward age in which I was firmly entrenched.

It was a time of transition for my family. We were moving to Atlanta as soon as our house sold, and nothing seemed solid.

It was hardly worth the trouble to make new friends just to leave them, so I hung back at school. My best friend, Boo, was in seventh grade at West Hills, but she was already pulling away, moving toward a life that would never include me again.

Sitting there, staring up at the ceiling, I swam a little deeper into memories of the persimmon tree to find happier thoughts. It wasn’t difficult.

The tree stood on the corner of Sheffield and Bennington, a remnant of the farms and woods that covered the land before the developers’ bulldozers rolled in. My little band of friends — Boo, Tex and Terry — and I roamed the neighborhood at will. One well-traveled route was from Corteland, where Tex and I lived, to Chesterfield, where Boo and Terry lived, down Sheffield, past the persimmon tree to the school playground or beyond that to the commercial greenhouse.

Boo told me what the persimmon tree was. She also told me you couldn’t eat the fruit until after the first frost because it was too bitter, though we dared each other to try the unripe fruit in late summer. No one took the dare.

Like the creek behind the Dotts’ house, Boo’s swing set, the blackberry fields, the woods and the sledding hill on Corteland, the persimmon tree became a landmark of my childhood.

I have a very specific memory of walking to West Hills School one Saturday with Boo while I was still at Sacred Heart. She had an entry in the flower show and wanted to see how she’d done.

Flower show? She was a child, but her mother was guiding her toward a number of interests. I was a little jealous because flower shows seemed very adult, but I was also relieved that I could more or less run free while Boo arranged dried moss on driftwood for the scrutiny of her mother’s friends.

It was one tiny moment out of what has turned out to be a fairly long life, yet it is captured perfectly and triggered by a photo of a persimmon tree.

I’m grateful to Boo, who taught me to look up.

You never know what you might see and what memories you will find there.

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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