Going back to a tree of trust and the betrayal of a heroic childhood
Jane Bowron at the heart of her “heroic childhood” in a small town in New Zealand, mimicking her older brothers.
Jane Bowron is a Christchurch-based freelance writer and general columnist for Stuff
OPINION: My older brothers and I were lucky enough to grow up in a house next to the small-town botanical gardens that featured a playground of swings and slides, and the piece de resistance, a music rotunda.
A few days ago I drove past the house to check out its latest iteration and stopped to walk around the old playground in the park where we once held acorn fights with the neighborhood kids and threw a rugby ball.
The pretty botanical gardens have changed little over the decades, remaining somewhat impervious to the whims of city planners and the projects of private developers.
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Trees still stand that once seemed so tall you thought they’d make your nose bleed if you climbed them, the only difference being the absence of low branches, cut to prevent hoons from partying in their shade in below.
The more ornamental trees were favored by wedding photographers, who saw them as the perfect backdrop for formal shots consisting of the happy couple, the three obligatory bridesmaids and their grim-faced partners, crowned at the waist with hideous matching belts.
Our tribe viewed these stiff conjugal groups as unwanted tourists, encroaching on our turf and interrupting play. , running in front of the painting before fleeing the scene. As a farewell, we tossed the family’s dashing cat and its claws into the foam of the bridal veil to tear it to shreds and add to the chaos.
The youngest of three children, I aped my brothers and wanted to be a boy, cutting my hair short with nail scissors and spending summers wearing only shorts. I was proudly photographed in one of their scout uniforms and remember being out of breath during a rugby match and the sudden shock of imagining – “My God, that’s it, I’m dying young .” I did not shed a tear and was congratulated for it. The crying was weak. What the girls did.
My heroic childhood came to an abrupt end the day my mother fixed her penetrating gaze on the budding bumps on my chest and, in an icy voice, ordered me to come in and put on a top and keep it on.
Cut to the basics that I had been singled out and reprimanded for something not my fault, I slipped out to the park, heading straight for my favorite buddy, a tree I called the umbrella tree. There I sat, sulking underneath, furious at an unwelcome adolescence that had separated me from the tribe.
This tree has heard many complaints over the years, before I shunned its protective shelter for the theatrical allure of the band rotunda and the amateur plays I staged there. There, on these paintings, I discovered the power of being a girl and how it can make you feel like a movie star, 24 hours a day.
I am happy to report that the band rotunda and umbrella tree are still standing. I’m not a tree lover, but I shamelessly threw my arms around that trunk, whispering into its bark, “Remember me. I’m that whiny kid who used to sit under you and pour out her little heart. Thank you for listening to me and helping me.
Swear to God, that tree seemed to hug me as I stepped back in time to those happy childhood days when I was a rambunctious, carefree, flat-chested boy. Now, when I observe little girls wearing the ubiquitous girly uniform of the tutu, I feel a little sorry for them.