The cottonwood tree has a storied place in American history. Cowboys sang songs about them. The pioneers were thankful to see a small stand on the endless prairies, a sign of water, of shade, and of a little rest.
My mother hated them.
Now there wasn’t much that Mom hated in this world. She knew that each thing had its place, and most things had to be tolerated. Even spiders, which would throw her into a panic, she recognized as a creature that cleaned up the unwanted flies and mosquitos. And to be clear, she didn’t hate all of the cottonwood trees, just the lone one in the grove across the road.
She hated that tree.
In the summer, rather randomly, from as young as I can remember, over lunch, breakfast, or more often than not, sitting in the living room after a hard day’s work for the whole family, she would casually say to Dad, “Why don’t you take your chainsaw and go and cut down that cottonwood tree?”
Dad would give a little knowing smile and add a hurrumph.
“I mean it.” Mom would say with some gusto before leaving the conversation.
In a tightly packed house with four boys (five counting Dad) who would drag in all sorts of mud, debris, and items that did not belong in the house (“Who left that pocketful of rusty nails on the end table!” “Is that where your muddy socks are suppose to go?!” “Don’t bring that frog in here!”).
Add in a little girl with a lot of toys, and Mom was fighting an ever losing battle, but one that she fought with gusto.
On a dairy farm, we also had to contend with flies, smells, and other work hazards that just came with the territory.
Yet Mom endured and fought on.
But for some reason, that big old cottonwood with its cottony seeds that would fly with the wind and plug every screen on the south side of the house was the bane of her existence. It was the final straw, the last indignity. The cows, the mud, the dirt provided a living for her family. It put food on the table. The flies and other hazards were part of putting food on the table.
The cottonwood tree was just a nuisance.
The cotton would fill the screens, blocking the view and the breeze. To clean it meant hauling the vacuum outside, or occasionally taking the screens off and washing them properly, which overall was a big job, which meant that every time that Mom looked out the big front picture window, there was a fluffy, furry reminder of that hated tree.
Like the cowboys of old, Mom would have liked to have written a song about a cottonwood, rest assure, it wouldn’t have been a love song…