My great-grandfather was known by his great-grandchildren as simply “Hoyt”—his given name. Why he wasn’t called Daddy Martin is a great and haunting family mystery. We called him by his first name only. At the time (1960s) this might have been considered an indication of disrespect but that notion is unthinkable—absolutely unthinkable.
He was a tall, lanky man who life would seem appallingly ordinary by today’s standards. He worked for Houston Lighting and Power back in the days of Reddy Kilowatt. To me, he always seemed old, always seemed patient, always seemed kind. He did not dress in the latest fashion, he eschewed all fancy trappings of any sort, he lived in a small frame house that, by today’s standards, would be embarrassingly “plain.” The rooms of their home were lined with wallpaper rather than paint (I can still recall the pattern!), and the house smelled that peculiar scent of “old people.”
He had a small porch at his front door and, from that door, I could always see two things which have been cemented in my memory. And both memories are connected with his care for his plants.
To the side of his porch, Hoyt would tie strings from the floor of the porch to the ceiling and plant morning glories that would twist their way up the string through the summer, decorating his house with large purple blossoms.
But it is his crabapple tree which has become the point of heritage. In his front yard, to the left of his door, there stood a crabapple tree that would reliably put forth pink blooms each spring, and then followed by ripening crabapples over the summer. Not one to waste anything, he’d have my great-grandmother “put up” those crabapples as deep red jelly in Mason jars. Of course, we’d then slather that jelly along with gobs of butter on my great-grandmother’s homemade (of course! What else was there?!) buttermilk biscuits.
I have many tangible memories that give me great pleasure and make me proud. (Read “Mother Midge’s Jewels” if you’ve forgotten!) But that crabapple tree is special. It is a living gift. Hoyt’s daughter took a seedling from that tree many years ago and planted it in her front yard. My mom and dad have one in their front yard. And guess what? I have two in my front yard. One for me, and one to pass on to my daughter. She can then pass it on to my grandsons.
That original tree has given its progeny over 60 years, carefully passed down through five generations so far. Is it only a tree? Hardly. For it brings to my mind, every time I see it, that life is not about the accumulation of possessions, not about a career, not about power or control or protection, but about love. Love passed down. Love freely given.