This tree was said to be well over a century old when I had climbed it as a boy. I lay my head back against its rough bark and stared up at the sky through the tracery of its dark arms. In the creaking canopy, I could still plot the route, the exact footholds, limbs, knots, and gnarls, that took me the highest—40, maybe 50 feet up.
On winter days I could see practically the entire square mile of the town of Fallstone Trace from my topmost perch: the rusted tin roof of the ruins of the cotton gin; the gingerbread post office; the red brick school where I snoozed through eight years of clanging radiators and stopped clocks; the rotting timber water tower every schoolboy for generations was condemned to climb in ceremonious challenge to its rickety steps; the gas station where I had my first summer job at fourteen and drank up each Saturday's pay in salted nuts and small green-bottle Cokes stamped on the bottom with the names of exotic, unfathomably distant cities—Peoria, Ft. Worth, Albany, and that jewel of distant jewels Seattle; the feed-and-seed store whose plate glass window front bobbled with newly-hatched chicks dyed blue and red and pink and even yellow come Easter-time; the cinder-block volunteer fire station and steel-frame siren tower (the only rival of the steeple on my father's church) where my father, solemn in black robe and Bible, presided over the mock pomp of a womanless wedding and fried chicken and watermelon supper fund-raiser each October around revival time.
A tree like this was a thing to be prized. I was tempted to climb again but for my worsted suit and the leather soled shoes I had worn for the alleged funeral this afternoon. Besides, I had no heart for it. One is supposed to have a lingering affection for the things of youth, to bask in the everlasting radiance of one's past. Family, community, heritage, tradition: these were the things that mattered, the things that made you who you were. They anchored you. You carried them forward no matter where your roving took you. Then, by dint of some vague sentimental calculus, you cemented your identity by reclaiming them, even in exile. Wasn't that what the heart was, after all?
The only thing I felt now was pain as another cramp of an anxious nausea gripped my empty gut." Jim H., EULOGY pp.258-59