A consequence of getting older is current experiences inevitably get threaded to memories as Maybelline Emmons learns when she embarks on what she thinks will be a simple road trip to find an old friend that happens to be an old tree. Widowed, she doesn't have many old friends left. She gets way more than she bargained for. The easiest way out is just turn around and go back to her comfortable townhouse in Santa Barbara, sip her Pinot, and watch her hummingbirds. This was always enough before except it does seem kind of providential and she is a nice person and what should the check amount be? (Has she lost her mind?) Suddenly she has a 30-something 'son' (with a girlfriend who gets in her face about justice). Maybelline doesn't know why they put all the ugly strip malls and box stores in the poorest part of town. She never even thought about it and why would she? What, the sheriff, again? A man named, what? Tank? And what is it Tamara and Terrence's mother knows about their family's connection with the tree? This poignant, passionate yet hilarious story revolves around efforts to save an old-growth tree but things go off the rails in such a compelling way, it's sure to keep you on the edge of your branch (likely laughing, so don't fall off). Per Virginia Arthur's two previous novels, Treed will curl the tendrils of your heart, blow your leaves off, and maybe, just maybe, motivate you to save something in your own backyard.
"That old lady is hugging Pa Pa's tree," a gangly 12 year old black girl says to her 15 year old brother. They peer out the window of their apartment. "It's kind of pretty, watching her do that."
"Too bad it's not going to be there much longer," says the boy.
"Hope she knows."
"Of course she knows. Probably why she's here. To say goodbye."
"Sad. It's not like we need another drug store."
"It's not "we" they're worried about," says their mother as she walks into the room.
Maybelline sank to the base of the tree. How was it this terrestrial vestige was still here? Looking up, she saw the for sale sign-of course, there had to be a for sale sign. A pod of kids playing on 'skateboard corner' stopped what they were doing to stare at her. A discussion ensued. One kid flipped a plywood ramp off its mound and when he fell, all the other kids laughed. This deflected some of the attention but they returned to staring at her. She prepared herself but they stayed put, maybe choosing to make fun of her. She couldn't tell. She would return the next morning. She had to go back to her hotel, let her emotions go, let the grief in. She didn't have a choice.
"It's for sale," she thought as the smell of bleach from the hotel pillowcase filled her nose. A bit uncanny, the lot being for sale right now, while she was in town. Finishing her glass of wine with a gulp, she dropped off to sleep, "it's for sale" still in her mind, framing the backdrop of her dreams. "It's for sale," she thought upon opening her eyes in the morning. It would have been so much easier if the tree was gone; this is what she was expecting. That it was still standing in the middle of a city, still so majestic, sublime, divine.She could just gather acorns from it and plant them in different places throughout Santa Barbara then move on, try to get on the Senior Hostel trip to Costa Rica. She had been wanting to see Costa Rica for years.
"Damn it," she growled into the air of her hotel room. Angrily kicking the stiff hotel sheets off her legs, she got up in a start. She looked out the window of her room. "What am I going to do with an undeveloped lot in Santa Rosa?" she thought. Then again, it would probably be too expensive for her. She would call the realty office and ask the price. It would be exorbitant, she would laugh, hang up, collect some acorns then go home-all respects paid, both to the tree and to Jay, Millicent, Ted-pay her respects to that time when the biggest stress of the day was finding the picnic basket.
She went to breakfast and read the local paper, hoping the desire to call about the lot would pass.
She called the "Bock Realty Company".
"I had friends back then, early 70's, with the same last name as your agency, Millicent and Ted."
"This is Millicent," said a gravelly voice.
"This has to be Maybelline Emmons because you were always the only one to call me "Millicent" (versus Millie) plus I can still hear Minnesota in your voice."
Maybelline was startled into realizing the painful fact that very few people were left in her life that would know this; that in 1954 when she was 12, her father moved the family, her mother and one sister, out to California to take an electrical job at General Dynamics. Her sister had long since returned to Minnesota.
"Oh my God."
"Oh my God."
"Who would think?"
"It's been what, 40-some years?"
"Somethin' like that. Lord. Are you wanting to move here? Where do you live now?" Millicent felt a wave of emotion hit her.
"Still in Santa Barbara. It's about a day's drive."
"Santa Barbara. And Jay?"
"Left me a few years ago."
"Left you? Jay? I can't even imagine it, and so late in your marriage. Younger woman? It was always "Jay and May". Nobody ever said "Jay" or "May"; just "Jay and May", like it was one person."
"Oh, no," Maybelline chuckled. "I meant he left me here on earth. He died just a few years ago, stroke, the second one. He lived to be 81. We had a good life." She paused. "Gosh it was a crazy couple years, living here with Jay's cousin and his wife. We had nothing and I mean nothing in common. She was a traditional girl from the south. She could never wrap her head around my business degree and the idea that Jay and I would run the locksmith business together. When Miles would show something to Jay, I insisted on learning it too. She had such disdain for me because I wasn't carrying-out my wifely duty-having babies. After Jay learned the ropes from Miles, that uncomfortable time with them, my dad started dropping hints. He was so lonely after mom died so we moved to Santa Barbara and there we stayed. I'm still there but sold the business, the house. Now I'm on one side of a duplex. It's okay. I miss Jay and the dog, Lockey, ha. I lost them both the past few years. It was very hard." She paused then added, "still is."
"When was that?"
"When was what exactly?"
"That you and Jay left Santa Rosa?"
"1974," Millicent repeated, marveling. "Long time ago."
"Somehow, yes, it became a long time ago," Maybelline repeated. They paused.
"You wanna' cat? I know where you can get a damn cat! Two, three!"
Maybelline laughed. "I know! That lot comes with a few, huh?"
"How many did they have when you two were living with them? Five?"
"Cats?" Maybelline asked
"No, kids, sorry. We're going all over the place. Been too long."
"Four but by the time Jay took over Mile's business, it was five."
"It's was Women's Liberation then, remember? What a crock," Millicent coughed-out.
"I think we women had a harder time with one another than we did with the men."
"I'm sorry about Jay and your pup, Maybelline. You two were the only couple I thought would stay together for life. You had each other, as best friends. So no kids I take it?"
"No. That was a conscious decision. He got a vasectomy when he was, I don't know, 35?" Maybelline laughed. "Our kids were dogs from the pound." She paused. "There are days, Millicent, when I don't get out of bed.This is your agency then?"
"Not anymore. I'm actually just covering for my daughter-in-law. I turned it over to my son, Jim, and his wife. I think she's about to make her first big commercial sale and in fact-" Millicent stopped herself. She started again. "I still do a little on my own but for the most part I'm retired." She paused. "I remember that land too. Gosh it was pretty. The wildflowers. A lot of big oaks then too. Hundreds. Thousands maybe."
"Our picnics. It was so lovely. So simple."
"How could I forget? Now if we tried it, we'd probably get arrested, and anyway, there's no land left to sit on. Whatever happened with Jay's family farm in Oregon? They sell out? Everything covered in houses now like here?"
"No, no. It's quite wonderful, really. After Jay's father died and his mother went to live with her sister in
Seattle, Jay's younger brother and his wife took it over and now their kids are running it, doing organic farming, large scale. It's doing well. I think it will stay in the family. They want the land left open, undeveloped. It's so refreshing. I still visit when I can, and help out." She paused. "I remember you and Ted divorced-"
"Lord, at least 25 years ago now. I was in my 50's. It's so stereotypical, I can't even talk about it. It's too embarrassing. Younger woman and all that crap but he's moved on since her. I've lost count. I always thought you were after Ted," Millicent chuckled.
"Or maybe I was worried Ted was after you. I bet you're still beautiful. You might actually find him attractive now, Maybelline. He might be in between women too. Guess he's playing tennis at his retirement place in San Diego. You want his phone number?"
"Now you're being ridiculous, Millicent. You were beautiful.now too, I'm sure. You remember? I used to always tell you that you reminded me of -"
"No, I am not. Trust me. No, I am not."
"Did you ever find anyone else?"
"Lots and lots and lots of men. So many men. Yeah, I'm a regular siren." She released a raspy chuckle. "Almost, but I came to the conclusion I was perfectly happy on my own."
"I had a little scare with cancer, or not. It was benign. Even bought a wig. Never needed it. My shoulder aches sometimes from when Jay and I went to-it's nothing really. How about you? Are you okay? You're coughing."
A call was coming in. Millicent ignored it.
"It all goes so fast, Maybelline. So fast. You know, I never did get to Paris, or Alaska. Isn't that sad?"
"You can still go."
Millicent continued, "it all goes so fast. There was so much I wanted to do. So much. I wanted to see the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Victoria Falls. You know. All that stuff."
"I thought you and Ted did see the Pyramids?"
"No, no. We just talked about it-like I am talking to you about it now. You?"
"Yes, we traveled; Europe, Japan, Chile, other places." Maybelline mumbled on, now in a reverie with herself.
Millicent cut it off with her own, "then the grandchildren come and of...