copyright by Michele Young-Stone, 2009
The clearing was behind a row of loblolly pines, a species ill-suited to New Jersey’s climate. In the darkness, Gloria wore a flower-print cotton dress and white flats. Slipping off her shoes, she set them side by side on the blanket’s edge and sat beside Isabel. “I brought sandwiches.”
Isabel reached for one. Unfolding the wax paper, she took a bite.
Gloria said, “The loblollies aren’t supposed to be here.” She remembered her dad telling her the legend of the Payne boys, three brothers from Maryville who’d supposedly traveled south to sow their wild oats. Gloria’s father had embellished the story, as had everyone who’d ever told the tale—making it legend. Her father said that when the young men were journeying back to Maryville by way of South Carolina, they stopped to eat lunch beneath a grouping of loblolly pines, and admiring the bark, the way it flaked under their fingernails, thought the trees might be worth something. They dug three of the younger trees from the sandy soil, binding their roots in sackcloth, and carrying them home to Maryville in their wagon. When the boys’ parents told them that the strange trees were as worthless as they were, the Paynes took the loblollies to the edge of the New Jersey pine barrens planting them among Maryville’s pitch and oak.
The trees survived, differing from their southern counterparts, their canopies sparser, their trunks shorter, their bark thinner, but they survived. Maybe that had been Gloria’s father’s point—telling her that story: People, like loblollies, can endure. Maybe her mother would survive—a little differently than she’d been before —but survive just the same.
“My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me. Tell me where did you sleep last night?” Isabel and Gloria sang staring at the moon.