The Sweet Gum Tree

Once upon a time there was a little girl. She played in the sunken brick sand box built into her backyard patio. It was only 4’ x 4’ and for some strange reason, was placed directly under a Sweet Gum tree. When the warm summer days gave way to the cooler gusts of fall, the gumballs would drop by what seemed to be the thousands, filling the sandbox with round, virus-looking, spikey balls. She spent hours tossing them out onto the crisscross patterned brick patio. Her happiness in having a clean sand box was always short-lived for soon it would fill again with the unwelcome trespassers.

Her nearest sibling was 4 years her senior and lived up to the reputation red-headed girls earned by being bossy, mean and abusive. Never understanding what she had done to deserve her sister’s wrath, the little girl’s heart developed an extra beat. She thought if she could save enough of them up, she could give them to her mean sister when her heart finally died, for surely, no heart could survive that much ache.

Marceeya was the little girl’s very best friend. One day, she was just there – as if she materialized out of thin air. They did everything together and between the two of them, the gumball removal project wasn’t as daunting and the sandbox became a place where things of great import were discussed. Was there really a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? How does one get there? How heavy would it be? What would be the best way to transport it? If there was a Leprechaun guarding it, would they have to fight him for it? What weapons would be needed? There was much to consider.

Sometimes, they’d get cramps in their legs from sitting Indian-style. They’d stand and brush the sand off their skinny legs and giggle at the indentations left by little twigs or a stray, undetected gumball. They enjoyed walking the flowery perimeter of the backyard where all the flowers bloomed so prolifically in the spring and summer. The peony’s fragrance was what heaven smelled like, of that they were quite sure. The tight buds beginning to split apart, revealing the mystery of their once hidden color, were always covered with little brown ants, each one scurrying about as if on a life or death mission. They concluded they were “drunk” like adults would get when they had “highballs” for dinner.

“Do you think if we found a Unicorn it could take us to Heaven?”, Marceeya asked as her eyes scanned the clouds. Heaven was her favorite subject. She was sure she had lived there before. “Jesus sits in a big white chair. The chair is so big, we couldn’t even climb up it”, she marveled. “He wears a long white gown and no shoes. No animals are ever afraid of him either, he knows how to talk to them AND they can understand him, too. It’s not magic, it’s just the way things are up there”, she exclaimed shrugging her shoulders. “If something isn’t white, then it’s blue, blue like the sky. Those are just Heaven’s colors, that’s all.” The little girl never doubted her for a second. “How would you climb into Jesus’ lap if the chair is so big?”, she asked Marceeya.

“Well, we aren’t allowed to know that here, you can only learn that when you get there”, she stated emphatically. “It’s just how Heaven works, that’s all I know!” The little girl began to think Heaven must be the most glorious place one could ever hope to see.

They sat in the grass and began pulling clover stems to fashion daisy chains. Marceeya knew how to use two clovers at a time thus producing a far superior and lush looking chain to that of the little girl’s but this never bothered Marceeya and she delighted in having the daisy necklace placed upon her, wearing it draped over the shoulder in a bateau fashion. She was like a Queen the little girl thought.

When next summer came to visit, Marceeya was long gone. Her father had been transferred to Oklahoma and all the little girl knew was that Oklahoma was far away. She could never walk there in a day. She thought about the Unicorn and couldn’t remember if Marceeya did in fact decide whether or not one could fly them to Heaven. The little girl was certain if Heaven was a Unicorn destination, surely Oklahoma was a possibility.

One day, while chasing her cat, Samantha, she stumbled and fell on the patio with the crisscross patterned bricks. She began to cry. Laying there on her stomach, she could feel her right knee burning where she had scuffed it. Through her tears, she noticed the sand box where she and Marceeya had spent so many happy times solving life’s mysteries. It was full of ugly, stabby gum balls and she realized she hadn’t played in it all summer long.

She was 6-years-old but was sure she must be a grown-up now, that 6 was the age one transitioned from child to full grown adult. She wondered if there were gum balls in Oklahoma and if Marceeya had a new very best friend.

As summer turned to fall and the gum balls fell like rain, she realized her heart was aching so much, she could no longer save her extra heartbeats for her mean, red-headed sister; she had to use them to save her own heart.

And she wished she could be five again.


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