Family Tree

photo copy 3

Last week, the giant ash that has lived across the street for the more than two decades we have lived here, the one whose branches create an almost-arch over our street and whose leaves I could see when I was laying on my bed, which filled my window, always the first to turn colors in the fall, was cut down. My neighbor Ruthie told me it was just a twig when they moved in 42 years ago.

It was infected with emerald ash borer, the name of a green beetle who is so very unhappy to be away from it’s native Asia or Russia and is taking it out on Chicago area ash trees.  Those of us who happened to be around that morning – there were at least seven or eight of us – watched, our mouths in pout, as four strong men took their positions in and around the tree and two worked the chipper. It was loud and fast. Forty-two years for it to grow to it’s towering state. Gone two hours later.

Continue reading “Family Tree”

Object Permanence



Every January for 25 years, my friend Mary Ellen hosted a women’s luncheon in which  she served a flavorful winter soup and a few side dishes.

As guests, our task was to bring an appetizer, champagne and an object that represented  the year that has just ended. The afternoon was spent in an adult version of “Show and Tell,” taking turns telling the stories that animated the items.

Over the years, I’ve forgotten many of the women’s stories but I remembered what they brought. I can still see the magnifying mirror from the woman who just turned 50. The basketball, soccer ball and baseball from the mother of three athletic sons. The photographs from the woman just back from Cuba. The Mary Oliver poem from the woman who had lost several friends that year.

Some years into this ritual, I recognized the value of keeping a record of my own luncheon artifacts. The large box pictured above is filled with envelopes, marked by year, with the object or record of it inside.

What’s interesting is how quickly the sight of these items reconjure the year in question.

Objects are concrete. Tangible. Understood.

When we work them into our stories, people can see them. They provide visual heft. They can be a shorthand for larger ideas and feelings. Perhaps a metaphor. An object offers a way to move time without referring to literal time. They age; show wear and tear but can be refurbished.

A well-selected object makes your stories pop. Your message will remain in the screen and hopefully, heart of your listener or readers’ mind.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish