The highway department has made the decision they’re going to widen Hwy 42, the road in front of Mama’s house, from a two-lane to a divided four-lane. For years we’ve wondered when that would happen. Even when I was a girl and we lived in Daddy’s homeplace that was built in 1880, we knew it wouldn’t pay to renovate that house that was situated too near the road that had once been dirt.
So when I was in eighth grade, that old two-story farmhouse was cut in two sections and moved back on our farm to reveal the new brick ranch that had been constructed behind it. While our expansive lawn was new, the magnolia tree near the road was old and had most likely been planted by my grandmother. Now, that tree is in the path of the road widening project and will be destroyed for the sake of progress.
This is a small thing to complain about compared to what some people will give up, including those families with loved ones buried in the Shallow Well Church cemetery. The road project will require 200 of the 2200 graves to be moved. Fortunate for us, this will not impact our family’s sites that are just out of the reach of the expansion, but others will experience the sacred ground of a family member’s resting place being disrupted. We all wonder if this highway project is as necessary as they claim, and some also wonder about the politics of which roads are widened and who are the ones that really benefit.
But for now, my concern is with losing that magnolia that has been part of my life since my earliest memories. It was the backdrop for family pictures when we were dressed in church clothes and Mama took the photos using her Brownie camera. At Christmas, we’d gather branches and use the shiny green leaves to decorate our mantle. For me, the lemony smell of the blossoms will always be June in the South. The large white blooms were used around the punch bowl for refreshments that were served after my high school graduation.
When my sons were little, they played with their cousins under that huge tree in Grandma Rosser’s yard. Several of her seven grandchildren would climb up in the tree while the others made a playhouse underneath, mostly hidden from the view of their parents.
The magnolia was more than a tree. It was a place.
When I heard the highway department had marked our yard with stakes to show the road boundaries, I took my iPhone and made pictures. I thought about how Daddy’s mother had probably planted that tree and had marked time by how much it had grown; “I remember when we planted that tree back when . . .” and she would call up an event that happened around that time. There were some trees that were even larger than the magnolia– like the walnut and pecans. But they had the practical function of providing nut meats for the family and shade to the house before air conditioning.
The magnolia was the crowning glory of that yard with its purpose to delight with year-round color, intoxicating fragrance, and symbol of Southern beauty and belonging. I’ll miss that tree and all the years of joy it brought to our family.
How about you?
What changes have you experienced that were forced on you and altered or took away something you valued?
How did you handle your loss?
Did you have the opportunity to say “Goodbye”?