Have you ever felt a memory before it actually registered in your mind?
I saw this tree ...
... and before I was aware of what was happening I could smell after shave, I could hear a strong voice with a melodic Italian accent and I felt the warmth of kind eyes and a quick smile.
I had a neighbor in Brooklyn who had a tree just like this at the front of his property. It was a huge old tree. It stretched far up and wide out. Our street was crowded and busy and the tree hung over the sidewalk and the neighboring driveway. When it began to lose its petals they landed everywhere.
One evening I stopped to talk to my lovely neighbor and when I got upstairs to my apartment there were petals in my purse. I can still feel how that made me smile.
My neighbor's wife and many others hated the tree. They complained about needing to clean up the petals; how the petals covered their cars, got onto the soles of their shoes, followed them everywhere.
My neighbor called the petals "fleeting gifts of beauty". He taught me how to say that in Italian and although I don't remember how I can hear him.
I can see the little girl down the street stopping to kick them up. I can see her picking them up and sprinkling them over her head. I can see my neighbor laughing; I can feel the power and joy of his laughter.
So I'm sitting in my car looking at this tree and feeling all this and for a moment my only memory of his wife is her stern face and endless nagging.
And then I remember the day of his funeral.
Late that day; after the endless mass and the painful scene at the cemetery I am back home. I feel such a sense of loss. I adored this man. I glance across the street and a bit to the left and see his house. It is winter so the tree is bare and that seems fitting. I see his wife on the porch and I walk over. We just stand there together. My eyes are full of tears and my heart hurts. Her English is "not so good" so she speaks slowly and quietly.
"In Italy my Joey always loved the trees, the vines, the plants." Her face is soft and she looks so young to me although she is close to 80. "My father, my brothers were all very rough, very loud. Joey is the gentlest man I ever knew. I love that about him."
I hugged her and told her to go inside, it was very cold. I promised to come have coffee in the morning.
As I walked away she said "Dee-Anna, I will take good care of the tree. Always. For Joey."
This was nearly 10 years ago. Joey's son and his family have taken over the house. Rosa lives with them. She will be 90 soon and she is going strong.
And so is the tree.