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Mistletoe is No Guarantee You'll be Kissed

by Roberta McReynolds

Mention the word 'mistletoe' and most people I know associate it with winter holidays and Kissing Balls. The mere whisper of the green invader stirs up an altogether different reaction at my house and it doesn't involve anything romantic.

Enterprising youngsters make an annual trek to my door with sprigs of it in hand all tied up with red ribbon, hoping to find a buyer. Sadly shaking my head, I point toward the 'mistletoe mill' which dominates the yard. January through December, the lurking parasite spreads across the surface of my tree.

When my husband and I bought our house the contractors planted an Ornamental Pear tree in the center of the front lawn. We watched each phase of construction and landscaping. The tree appeared the week of my birthday. Naturally, I became sentimentally attached. Meanwhile, my husband muttered under his breath about leaves and blossoms, remaining detached for reasons I chose to ignore.

Ah! Thousands of tiny white flowers in the spring and brilliant shades of red and orange leaves in the autumn would mark the seasons. I couldn't wait to experience the beauty.

The years passed and my tree slowly grew tall enough to shade the front of the house. I watch it through my window as I sit at my computer. The tree, in full bloom, looks like it is covered in popcorn. When the flowers are spent, gentle breezes carry the petals across the yard like falling snow.

New green leaves sprout and the tiniest pears form where the flowers once had been. Birds arrive when the pears fully ripen in late summer and feast on the delicacy. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings migrate to our neighborhood and fill the branches. They fly from tree to tree, making their way up the street in an aerial feeding frenzy.

I sit transfixed at the window, observing the birds as they pluck dime-sized pears and swallow them whole. These black-masked birds emit a high-pitched trill that I recognize long before they come into view.

"The Cedar Waxwings are coming," I joyfully announce to my husband and tabby cat. My feline companion joins me at the window. She regrets this has been declared a spectator sport only. These birds number in the hundreds. My husband voices something about "mess" and "stupid berries", his euphemism for tiny pears.

The American Robins are next to arrive. Dozens of them hop about the ground. They are the clean-up committee, scavenging for the fruit other birds drop from the branches. There is enough for everyone. More than enough. The excess fruit softens and spoils with time. It falls on the sidewalk and driveway, where it blends with the 'calling cards' of all those well fed feathered friends. It clings to the bottoms of our shoes, sticking in the tread until the moment it makes contact with the carpet. The love of my life looks at me steadily, hoping I will see the light.

Autumn arrives and the tree turns color. The leaves are predominately red. White frosty crystals sparkle on the edges on the leaves in the morning light. Late afternoon sun back lights the color and makes my tree glow against the blue sky. The tree has grown taller and produced more leaves than last year, which need to be raked. Now I ask you, is that such a terrible price to pay for months of entertainment?

Winter reveals bare branches and something else: mistletoe. Birds have carried the parasite throughout the neighborhood. It must be cut out before it sucks the life out of the tree. Each year we wage war against it, pruning infected limbs. Not everyone in our neighborhood is as vigilant, so the problem always returns worse than ever.

This year I relent and give my husband permission to take out my tree. He hacks and saws away at it and I imagine that after 12 years of trying to save it, this must be quite therapeutic for him. He managed to reduce it to a branchless trunk. It was time to locate someone with a chain saw. Meantime, visiting friends stop and stare at the unsightly vestige of a tree.

"He's been pruning out the mistletoe and I think he's almost got it this time," I quip. As that line grew old, I inform guests, "My husband plans to carve a totem pole for me."

Amazingly, leaves and mistletoe begin to sprout from the trunk before a trip to the hardware store to purchase a chain saw can remove the last evidence. Except for the root ball nestled in the hole in the front yard. I don't know if mistletoe likes roots or not.

My husband is picking out an evergreen tree as a replacement. I'm sure it will be lovely, once a decade or so has passed and it grows large enough to shade my window. I'll miss the colors and variety the season once brought. Those birds will be so disappointed.

Every summer, the week of my birthday, I walk across the street and take a photograph of our home. My dozen pictures mark the passage of time in subtle changes. This year will be more notable.

When I look in the mirror my reflection speaks of change, also. Fine lines etch a face framed by graying hair. I joined the menopause club since my last birthday. Fifty years, and I'm just beginning to know myself and glimpse my potential.

I've decided to embrace this new tree as a symbol of rebirth and finding my purpose. An evergreen seems appropriate. I think my husband has made a wise selection to celebrate this point in our earthly journey. Naturally, I've become sentimentally attached.

Now we will have pine needles to clean up, of course, instead of leaves. I've always wanted to learn how to make pine needle baskets.

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