Mark Ballard

A dogwood tree filled with memories

Sitting under his daddy’s dogwood tree offers Mark Ballard a peaceful place to pause and collect his thoughts.
Sitting under his daddy’s dogwood tree offers Mark Ballard a peaceful place to pause and collect his thoughts. Special to The Telegraph

I never knew 15 years ago I would still be enjoying a gift I received when my daddy died. It’s the kind of gift that grows bigger and reaches higher into the clouds with every year. It dramatically changes with the seasons and has secured its place in my heart and yard. It’s a dogwood tree I received instead of flowers when my daddy died.

I’ve written about this very thoughtful gift on many occasions but I’ve never enjoyed it as much as I have lately. Planted in a prominent place in the courtyard by our back door, I pass it multiple times every day. I chose this particular place for that very reason. It, like my daddy, deserved a place of honor.

Recently, we adopted a small, black and white Chihuahua named Bandit. For some reason, he has decided to use the same courtyard for a place to do his “business.” Bandit often wants to roam around for a few minutes as he methodically looks for the perfect section of grass. As a result, I spend a lot more time hanging out with Daddy’s dogwood tree.

Debra suggested we place a chair directly under the lower branches of the dogwood to sit while Bandit ambles around. It was a great idea because now I can spend even more time with the dogwood tree. Looking up at the maze of branches against a backdrop of beautiful sky at various times of the day gives me time to stop and meditate on things going on in my life. I’m lucky to have such a special place to ponder my burdens and offer my gratitude. I feel so close to Daddy sitting under the tree. The branches seem to hug me and offer comfort now that he can’t.

Since Bandit joined our family in the summer, I have enjoyed the mossy green leaves hanging against the blue skies. They are more than willing to offer me shade from the sun on the hottest of days. Recently, as summer passed the baton to autumn, the tree’s leaves shared some of their green color with various shades of rust and scarlet. I’ve seen their subtle progression multiple times a day as I sat under the tree. The clusters of berries have slowly shifted from green to a bright red. As an artist, it’s an amazing show produced by nature to watch for free.

As night falls, the tree looks different against a dark sky. The stars peek through the overlapping branches as the moon illuminates the tree’s silhouette. Since Bandit is mostly black, I take a flashlight with me when I take him out so I don’t lose him. The other night, I pointed the flashlight straight up into the leaves and marveled at the way they danced with the breeze. It won’t be long until only branches remain but the anticipation of watching the white dogwood blooms unfurl will give me hope for spring after a cold, dreary winter.

Daddy’s tree has changed so much since I first received it. It was just a small tree with a few naked branches planted in an inexpensive plastic, black container. It paled in comparison to all the other brilliantly colored floral arrangements at the funeral. Those flowers faded after a few days and died but I have had the pleasure of watching Daddy’s tree bloom each spring, grow stronger and reach higher into the sky.

The friend who gave me the dogwood tree certainly knew what she was doing. When the tree arrived, it had a small note attached. It read, “I hope you enjoy watching this tree grow just like your Daddy enjoyed watched you grow.’ I’ll be forever grateful for such a unique and lasting gift.

There is no doubt Daddy would have loved this tree. I can almost see him sitting under the dogwood tree holding Bandit and smiling. There was never any doubt Daddy loved me. His tree just helps me to remember all the good times we shared.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email mark@markballard.com; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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