A battle for our hemlocks

The Tolkien family had emigrated from Germany in the 18th century but had become "quickly intensely English". However, this origin of the name has not been proven.

A battle for our hemlocks

The rug was threadbare in places, A battle for our hemlocks I spent hours every day pulling the little wiry strings back to reveal more wood. The stairs always squeaked as they do in old houses, so that later, as a teenager, I knew exactly which side of which step to avoid when I snuck out to meet my boyfriend in the dead of night.

I felt most comfortable on those stairs, perched on the small landing exactly three stairs from the top, where upstairs became downstairs and daytime became nighttime. I floated down those stairs once; I can still feel the flight in my flesh, the ultimate little girl freedom dream when life had yet to leaden me.

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That night of the floating dream, I ended up pouring a glass of milk in the kitchen, the cold white liquid overflowing the tall glass, spilling on my hand and then the linoleum floor, waking me up. One winter afternoon when I was about seven, my father came back from the hospital after having surgery on his hands.

A battle for our hemlocks

All I remember was he disappeared rather suddenly, and was gone at least a week. It was a Saturday morning, and I wore a flannel nightgown with a lace collar and elastic wrists I would pull until they ripped and stretched. I wore my nightgown all day on the weekends, feeling the freedom of a day without pants.

My father was a gorgeous man. His mole, black and distinctive, sat right on his cheekbone, below his left eye. When he walked in the front door, which was directly at the bottom of the stairs, my mother had to help him take off his coat.

She had driven him home. His thumbs were wrapped in white braces wrapped in Velcro to render them immovable. The Velcro scratched my neck, but I kept that to myself.

He kissed my head. He went into the kitchen to talk to my mother and I stayed in the foyer, the black marbled linoleum cold under my feet. A little later, after he went upstairs to rest, I crept up after him and sat again on the stairs, slowly inching my way toward his room.

The door was closed and no light shone through the crack at the bottom. I reached the doorframe and sat outside. At first, I thought my father had the TV on.

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Long low moans punctuated by hiccupping sobs filtered through the doorjamb. Then it hit me—my father was crying. I had never heard my father cry before, though I would hear it again in the years to come. But on this day in my childhood, I had never even considered my father crying a possibility. He was a mostly happy man who only seemed to ever get upset when I woke him up from a nap, or when my sister and I would pretend to run away, filling our knapsacks with stuffed animals for dramatic emphasis.

I scooted closer to the white, peeling door and held my arms wide and flat. I pressed my face up against it, and closed my eyes, smelling the old paint. My narrative on love, marriage and parenting was tight and exact. Everyone in my family met young, married young, and stayed together until they were old.

To the Memory of the Household It Describes

I grew up with parents and grandparents all who were still together and mostly happy. The people in my family loved their children fiercely. There was never a doubt in my mind that my parents would do anything for me or for my sister, anything at all.

There still is no doubt in my mind about that. If I call, they come. It has been tested more than once, even in my darkest days.

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I think, as a child, my understanding of this kind of love made me feel protected and safe. As I grew up and moved away, I set a goal for myself:Public Radio from NH. Your source for state-wide news and information offering a mix of local, national and international news and cultural programming.

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