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I'm Not a "Sucker": A life pruned

The weather was unseasonably warm a couple of weekends ago so my dad left one tree for me to prune. I’m not sure why he did. I think the original idea had been that I could use some of the muscles I had been diligently building at the gym to good use and save him some effort. In the end, he had worked his way through his ever growing orchard, usually bigger by at least one tree a year, and I was left with one tree to learn on. I balanced the clippers as long as a yard stick between my hands and after a few snapped branches had stuffed my hat in my coat pocket and spread the coat out on the grass below.

Clip. I started. Clip. Twist. Pull. I hesitated. “Why are we pruning again?”

“You send a signal that the tree is being hurt so it needs to make seeds (apples) so it will be fruitful,” Dad responded.

“That’s mean.” I honestly felt it in my stomach. Poor tree. I remembered something I had read about the smell of cut grass actually being a signal of the plant’s pain. I sliced through the tree just so I could enjoy apples. The tree didn’t owe me that.

“You doing okay?”

“I’m not exactly sure.” I stared upward and attempted to gauge which branch should be next. “I’m worried that I’m going to take off too many.”

“Cut any branches that are considered to be “suckers”, something that comes back from what you cut the year before, and any weak branches or branches that are crossing each other.”

Clip. Clip. “Why?” I asked.

“Suckers give no fruit and they only take energy from the tree.”

That sounded like the discussion at the nonprofits I had worked for. Never a popular point to make, but I guessed it was a natural one.

“Most people don’t prune enough,” he continued. Dad had no idea how right he was. “Prune so a Robin can fly in and out” they used to say. Then there’ll be enough room for the apples.”

That rang like advice for me personally, as I had begun to “prune” out all the “suckers” that had shot out from my life when I had first returned from Guatemala. I had so much urgency what was now two years ago. Its manic nature, like the tree, pushed me forward to make connections and rebuild my life. I knew now I didn’t have the energy to sustain them, nor did those choices bear fruit.

“Suckers are quick to grow, eager to grow. Good branches never grow as fast as the suckers do “reactionary”-make up for lost time, but they don’t have a good connection point.”

Clip. Clip. Tug. Tug. Tug. Clip. Pull.

“The branches that are already going down will not be able to support the weight of the apple,” my dad continued.

That sounded like what happened when I took the job at the adult literacy nonprofit. It had too many triggers, too many ways to irritate barely healed scabs.

“Too many suckers shade out the apples. Take away their sun which affects their color and sweetness.”

This lazy Sunday would slip away by walking the dog and knitting a baby blanket for my second niece. I would sink into the couch and watch a new release I had checked out from the library.

“I thought you didn’t watch movies,” my aunt had commented the last time I shared a title. The simple fact was that it had taken months to realize that I actually had time I could enjoy for no special purpose, that the time, and the life it belonged to, were mine.

“Too many suckers shade out the apples. Take away their sun which affects their color and sweetness.” My dad cleared away the bundle of supple, burgundy twigs. “Can you imagine it?”


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