This particular tree was and still is a mystery as to its purpose and its name. In our vast schoolyard, there were lots of trees but mostly pines (as is true of most of Arkansas forest). But halfway between the school house and the highway there was this big, sprawling tree. Though it was quite large, its branches were mostly near its top – way out of anybody’s reach ... even the tallest man. In my childhood ignorance, I thought and hoped it was a cherry tree. If it were, then it would have edible fruit. Why I thought they were cherries, I have no idea, because I had never seen a cherry tree and wouldn't have known one had I saw one. The most I knew about cherry trees is the story about George Washington, or whichever president it was, chopping one down.
I desperately wanted that tree to be a cherry tree or some other wild tree with edible fruit, because I was always hungry. And as a result, I was always looking for something else to eat, so every time I passed that tree and saw its little, cherry-size, yellow fruit dripping from its branches, I wanted to pluck a few of those balls to see what they taste like. When my curiosity finally got the best of me, I asked my mother if we could eat those things. She told me, "No, you can’t eat those things.” And with that, I was even more determined than ever to try one. The first reason I didn’t try to snatch one is because the branches were too high to reach. Secondly, unlike other “fruit,” and for whatever reason, those “berries” never fell to the ground. At Least, I don’t recall that they did. And that was another mystery as to why I never saw any on the ground, but I never did.
I was like Eve standing at that “apple” tree in the Garden of Eden. I stood there gazing at the tree while reasoning that its fruit couldn't be that bad, but if they were indeed deadly, I would die young. More than anything, I wanted to live to at least get grown. So if those little, round balls were poisonous, then I would be "done for." So finally, unlike Eve, who got greedy and allowed her curiosity to overtake her, I talked myself into just leaving that tree alone. I thought about the fact that its fruit could take me out. So, that was enough for me.
I have an inkling that the older folks knew that the fruit on that tree was not for human consumption, but in my childish way of thinking, I thought everything that grew on trees and looked good could be ingested. Even still, I didn't want to find that out the hard way. And as hard headed as I am, I had enough sense to know that I should just leave that fake cherry tree alone.
In later years, I learned that cherries do grow on trees but not on that kind of tree. So I had used good judgment in not eating that "forbidden" fruit. While there is a reason for everything that exists, still, I couldn't understand why God made a tree with such delicious-looking fruit that no one could eat. Not only did humans not eat its fruit, no one even harvested those "cherries" for the hogs. I surmise though that those hungry, Arkansas birds ate their share of something I couldn't eat.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/Debra Wiseberg