Bur Oak 2200 800

I live in Plano, Texas, with a French bulldog named Winkie. Winkie weighs about twenty pounds and requires a lot of attention. He’s patient and kind, but he suffers when left alone. That’s all right. I’m retired and home all day. When I go to the store or anywhere else, I take Winkie with me.

When Janet was alive, she’d spend time with Winkie too, especially before I retired. While I was off at work, Janie and Winkie would keep each other company. I lost Janet eight months ago. Pancreatic cancer. We were married for fifty-one years.

I go for a walk twice a day with Winkie. He’s something of a couch potato, but he’ll put in the effort, at least for fifteen minutes or so. I carry him part of the way. Because he’s a little bulldog, he doesn’t handle temperature extremes very well, so I always take that into consideration. We don’t go out if it’s too hot.

I also swallow one or two of my wife’s left-over pain pills before we go out. I need two new hips. Without the pills, I’d never make it. After the pills kick in, though, I’m good to go. Our house backs up on Bob Woodruff Park. I’ve cut a hole in the fence and Winkie and I have worn a path through the woods to the the South Pavilion. When we get to the Pavilion, the first thing we do is check out the Quincentennial bur oak. This is the largest, oldest tree in Plano – the oldest tree in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as far as I know – and a perfect spot for Winkie to do his business.

We arrived at the tree one day to find a young fellow standing there, staring up at it.

“Do you know how old this tree is?” the boy said to me, as Winkie approached its trunk with his nose to the ground. The boy looked to be sixteen or seventeen, slender and neatly dressed. His bike lay on the ground beside him.

“They used to call it the Bicentenial bur oak,” I said. “Two hundred years old. But they changed that to Quincentennial.”

“There was a storm a while back and a big limb broke off.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Winkie and I were over here the next morning. Good thing nobody was standing under it, because that limb was a monster. It fell from forty or fifty feet up.”

“They thought the tree was two hundred years old,” the boy said, “but when they measured that limb, it was two hundred years old all by itself. That’s when they knew the tree was more than five hundred years old.”

“Nobody around here when it sprouted but the Indians,” I said.

“Indians on foot,” the boy said. “They didn’t have horses yet. The Spanish hadn’t got here yet with the horses.”

I thought his historical chronology was a little off there, but I kept my own counsel about it.

“My name is Morris,” I said. “That’s Winkie.”

“I’m Jesus,” the boy said.

“Isn’t today a school day?” I said.

“I was feeling kind of down. I decided to come over to the park and think about things. I like to hang out by this tree. It probably sounds crazy, but I think it knows things.”

“You go to Plano East?”

“Yes. I’m living in a foster home in Ranch Estates, so East is close by.”

“Those are nice homes over there,” I said.

“Raul and Rosa Martinez. They’re old. They have no children of their own. They keep four of us there at all times. I think it’s like their own personal charity that they do. We don’t see them much. They travel a lot. They’re rich, of course.”

Winkie had come over and sniffed the boy. Jesus squatted down to pet the animal. He grinned.

“Great dog,” he said.

“You’re on your own? Your parents… If you don’t mind me asking.”

“My parents died in an automobile accident. Yes, I’m on my own most of the time.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. About your parents,” I said.

“That tree may be five hundred years old, “Jesus said, “but it never had to put up with anything like my folks getting killed.”

“I’ve got a bur oak in my back yard,” I said. “We had a gardener years ago who planted it for us. It’s a youngster compared to this one, of course.”

Winkie and I moved off down the park path and left Jesus standing there, staring at the tree.

Plano is a town that started small a long time ago, got bigger, but is now surrounded on all sides by other communities. It’s part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I’ve heard it called the wealthiest city in America, with the highest per-capita income, and the safest city in America, with the lowest crime rate. It’s on lists as the best place to live.

If you happen to be a fan of the Houston Astros, Texans, and Rockets, maybe Plano is not quite so perfect at that.

The town is also flat. It helps to like flat if you live in Plano.

When Winkie and I returned the next day, Jesus was there again.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“What’s that metal up in the tree?”

“It’s a lightning deflector or controller or regulator or something. They don’t want a stray bolt knocking the tree down in a storm… You’ve got to respect this tree. It was old when Shakespeare was born.”

“That’s what I was saying yesterday. I was wondering if I could connect with the spirit of this tree somehow.”

“Somehow how?”

“Like if I were buried at its roots.”

“By the time you’re old and buried, you won’t be worrying about a tree. You’ll have children and grandchildren and you’ll be worrying about them.”

“I mean, if I were buried there now.”

I took a good look at this kid.

“How are you getting along in that foster home?” I said.

“I get pretty low. They’ve got me seeing a shrink. I take a pill.”

“Are you a danger to yourself?”

“I don’t think so, but sometimes I get these ideas. Like with the tree.”

“You want to go get a taco?” I said. “Talk a little?”

“Sure,” he said. “Why not?”

“You know Crazy Tacos?”

Not the best name for a taco place, at that moment, but it’s nearby in a little strip mall just south of the park.

“Sure.”

“Ride your bike over there. Winkie and I will go get our car and meet you. We’ll have a little lunch.”

Which we did. Jesus talked about school at Plano East and about his foster home. I talked about Frito-Lay, where I spent most of my adult working life. The Frito-Lay world headquarters is located on the other side of Plano. Winkie waited outside with his leash tied to a post. I could see him through the window. He was patient but I could tell that he did not approve of being left alone. I could understand that.

I just wanted to be sure the boy wasn’t thinking about doing something stupid.

After that, we’d meet at the tree in the park sometimes and talk for a while. He didn’t show up every day, but he’d come several times a week. We had pizza at Napoli’s, which is in the same place as Crazy Taco. We talked about the death of his parents and my wife.

“My counselor says I’ll get over it,” Jesus said. “Time heals all wounds.”

“You won’t forget it, but as time goes on, it won’t hurt so much,” I said.

“Did time heal your wounds?”

“I wasn’t wounded,” I said, “so there was nothing to heal.”

“I don’t get it.”

“When Janet died, part of me died. No wounds involved.”

Jesus looked skeptical.

“You saying your hurt was worse than mine?”

“Look, Jesus. My wife and I had more than fifty years together,” I said. “I’ve got no complaints. I wish it had been me instead of her that died, but it didn’t happen that way. It was the natural flow of life. For our kids, their mother’s death saddened them, but like you say, their wounds healed. In your case it was worse. Much, much worse. A terrible tragedy. Your parents aren’t supposed to go when you’re still a kid. You’ll need lots of help to get on with your life – to deal with your sorrow and your pain. The difference between you and me is, you have a future to go on to. You still have your life waiting for you to live. You aren’t supposed to leave early.”

We ate in silence after that.

When we went out, Jesus knelt to pet Winkie.

“You’re a great dog,” he said.

As he climbed on his bike to go home, I asked him if he had any use for a car.

“I can hardly drive anymore with my bad hips,” I said. “I usually call a cab. Do you have a license?”

“Sure. I’m sixteen.”

“Drive the Taurus when you need to get somewhere that the bike can’t take you.”

“Thank you, Morris,” he said.

The following week I asked him if he’d like to work part-time at Frito-Lay. I’ve still got a lot of friends there. He told me that he would.

I arranged it. He could hop in the car after school and drive about fifteen miles due west on Spring Creek Parkway to get to Frito-Lay. A half-hour trip when the traffic’s not bad. After he’d been there a week, I called Ernie, the friend who got Jesus the job in his department. Ernie told me that Jesus was fitting in well.

A month later on a Saturday, Jesus was visiting my place for lunch. After lunch we were going to take Winkie to the vet for a checkup. We finished eating and Jesus played with Winkie on the living-room floor while I cleaned up.

“I think you saved my life,” he said when I came out of the kitchen. “I want to repay you but I guess I can’t right now.”

“I didn’t save your life. You’re a strong young man. When we met, I could see that you were just pausing for a minute in your life to take stock – that you were deciding what next step to take. It was easy to help you… but there is one thing you could promise me.”

“Name it.”

“If anything ever happens to me, that you’ll take care of Winkie.”

“I love Winkie,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen to you, but I promise anyway. Right now, rest your hips. I’ll take Winkie for his checkup today and then we’ll swing by that dog park at Jack Carter Park. I drive by it every day on the way to work. When we get back, I’ll make you some dinner.”

“Thanks, Jesus. At Jack Carter, please stick to the fenced small-dog area, OK?”

“Absolutely.”

Before finding Jesus, my one big concern had always been Winkie, but I wasn’t worried now. Winkie had a new friend and protector.

As soon as they left, I went into the bedroom and assembled Janet’s remaining pill bottles. I picked out the sedatives, the tranquilizers, and the pain-killers, and I took as many of them as I could without throwing up. I didn’t want two new hips. I wanted Janet. I didn’t like the idea of Jesus and Winkie finding me dead when they got back, but now that my affairs were in order, I was off to join my wife.

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2 Responses

  1. I wonder whether my wife or I will go first. Hard to tell. If she does, I will need someone to take care of the chickens. They aren’t very good at strolling into town with me without getting eaten on the way. “Here, Mr. Raccoon, would you like to hold Moll’s claw so she won’t get lost on the way?”

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