I used to think my grandmother was crazy. She’d sit in our backyard for hours talking to the trees. I remember her telling me once that “trees are our people because they’re the offspring of the Earth’s undying spirit and our noble blood, which has been spilled all across this land.” Her favorite tree was “Uncle.” She’d laugh with it, sing to it. People would laugh. My mom told me to ignore it. Our neighbors called her a drunk. I called her my Maw–Maw.

It was the summer before eighth grade when she died. I remember seeing her in the coffin – I’d never noticed how pretty she was when she was alive. Her cheekbones were high and tinged with hints of bronze and red. Her skin was still smooth and shiny like wet autumn leaves buried at the bottom of a pile. There was something warm about her even in death. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until I saw her lying there that day.

I spent the rest of the summer hanging out in the backyard secretly hoping to hear her laugh.

Years passed and as school got harder, girls got prettier and I thought less and less about my Maw–Maw. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone out to the backyard. Then one day by accident, I found myself back there. I don’t remember seeing it before that day, but there was a small tree growing next to “Uncle.” It was tinged with red and bronze and its leaves sounded something like laughter as they blew in the gentle breeze. I simply sat down and listened.

Story by L.D. Willis
Art by Roy Hassett
Published in Book by Authors, 2006