Time passes sweetly for my magnolia tree.
Each year, unaffected by the troubles coursing through the world, she extends her tender limbs outward, upward. Each year, I mark the seasons by her grace.
Fall to winter, furry cones sprout bright red seeds; spring and summer pods emerge and blossom into wide open and creamy flowers, petals larger than my palms.
Always, the green remains. Weighted by snow sometimes, perches for birdlife, platforms for rivulets of rain. For 20 years I have accomplished the most mundane of tasks with my magnolia tree in my sight lines: Washing dishes, chopping vegetables, making a to-do list while drinking a cup of tea.
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She has been my companion and remains my source: My love for where I live is, in great part, due to the gifts her presence facilitated.
Twenty years have gone by since my first column, the one which described my magnolia tree and the advice my neighbors gave me. In the first year of my life in Concord I was told – in no uncertain terms – that my magnolia tree was not worth my love and affection.
They shed all year, my neighbor Bill Laughlin told me. The leaves would create detritus that would annoy me in the end. Might as well cut it down right away and plant a better-behaved replacement.
But you can walk inside a magnolia tree, I told Bill. You can climb in there and be a bird. Or a squirrel, resting, hiding. Bill just snorted.
Never mind the debates I had – they brought me my first column. And the first column brought me a world.
I’ve written about our schools and teachers. I’ve written about causes and the good people behind them. I’ve written about our libraries, our small businesses, our cultural life, our history. I’ve written about the intersection of Southern idioms and my Midwestern upbringing.
Most of all, I’ve written about people. Some people were folks “from around here” who had stories to tell of the travels their ancestor took down the Great Wagon Road. I’ve written about slaves buried in Cabarrus County, their tombstones etched by the sins of our past.
I’ve spoken to people who migrated here from all parts of the world – from Korea to California. I’ve spoken to people passing through and those who thought they were doing that and stayed instead. I’ve met kind and generous people through this work; I have been blessed with their stories.
Time did not always pass so sweetly for them or for me. In the two decades of life I’ve lived here, I have lost my father, who once visited me here, and my sister, who I never had the chance to welcome to my home.
She died just two years after I came to Concord; next to my magnolia tree are plants I put into the earth in the weeks after she died, more than 18 years ago.
Still, like my magnolia tree, I extend into the world each year. I try to grow as she has – with grace and steady, wise persistence. She will be here, I hope, well beyond my own time (may it pass sweetly).
I thank you all. You have given me stories and read my stories. I am grateful for your trust.
May I wish for another two decades?