This story was originally published as a Facebook post on March 15, 2018.
~ ~ ~
When I first moved out to the Pacific Northwest, I spent most of my non-work time hiking. I meandered up and down dozens of trails in the Cascade Range, and as one does when wandering, I occasionally got lost. On this particular lostventure, I ended up about a quarter-mile down an obscure, overgrown trail, staring up at the largest tree I’d ever seen.
I’d stumbled upon a secret stand of old-growth forest, rare this close to a road, and when I laid my hand upon its trunk I felt the hum of a thousand years beneath my fingers, linked to ancient roots of our world.
When my parents moved out here, I took them out to The Big Tree, and they were as awestruck as I. Then, unexpectedly into the silence and noise of the forest around us, my mother said, “This is where we should scatter the ashes.”
Grandma and Grandpa, my maternal grandparents, were long dead, and we’d had their ashes mixed together. But the ashes themselves sat in a plain, white cardboard box, tucked into the back of a closet for the better part of five years as living our lives superseded the need to ‘memorialize’ their difficult, complex life, and our relationship within it.
My mother’s instinct was right, and in on a sunny summer afternoon we three drove out and hiked in. I snipped the corner of the plastic bag and poured the ashes into a circle around the base of The Big Tree. “Now he can run around the trunk, and she can go tear-assing after him, yelling at him all the way through eternity,” I said, and the memorial service was over.
~ ~ ~
Fast forward three years.
My nephew, A., is three-and-a-half-years old. His father – my middle brother – and his wife have never seen The Big Tree.
We all caravan out down the road, where I struggle in the driving rain of January to identify the faint marks of the beginning of the trail. A. ‘hikes’ out to The Big Tree with us, and by ‘hike’ I mean he hangs on to one of my hands, one of Karim’s – my boyfriend – hands, and jumps into puddles and lets us swing him around.
We are soaked by the time we arrive.
A. stares up at the tree. He is comically small in comparison.
“Do you know why we’re here, A.?” I ask him.
“Yeah!” he says.
“Why?” I ask.
“I’m not sure,” he replies.
(this is a common response to his statement that he ‘knows’ things.)
“We’re here to visit this Big Big Tree.”
“Big Big Tree!” (this is a fun phrase to repeat.)
“And this Big Big Tree is where we come to say hi to my Grandma and Grandpa. Their…memories are here in this tree.”
“Oh!” he says.
He clearly has absolutely no idea how to comprehend what I’ve just told him, but he’s perfectly happy to hang out with us here in the rain, in the woods, in January.
He’s the Best Kid.
“So we’re going to say hi!”
We look up at the tree.
“Hi, Great-Grandma! Hi, Great-Grandpa!”
Engaged, he parrots me in his pipsqueak voice. “Hi Great-Grandma! Hi Great-Grandpa!”
“My name is A.!” I say.
“My name is A.!” he says, cheerfully.
“It’s nice to meet you!”
“It’s nice to meet you!”
“We hope you’re happy in your tree!”
“Happy in your tree!”
And there we are, him standing, me squatting beside him, craning our necks back to gaze through the infinite branches to the grey sky above.
We aren’t a religious family, and we’re not terribly spiritual in any sense of the word, but there in the woods, remembering my grandparents and knowing that they would have treasured this child as much as we do, we’re probably as close as we’re going to get.
~ ~ ~
And then A. says, “I gotta pee.”
~ ~ ~
We are dozens of miles from a bathroom, so we encourage him to continue one of the greatest male traditions in this world, and pee in the woods.
However, due to the anatomical challenges of being only three years old he…..well….misses.
He is immediately distressed. “I peed on my pants!”
“That’s ok,” I say, calmly. “We’ll get you new pants at home!”
“But my pants are wet! I need new pants!”
(He’s right, his pants are soaked, but it’s from the RAIN, not the pee. This fact is irrelevant.)
“A., we don’t _have_ any spare pants here. You gotta wear these ones, bud.”
“But I peed on my pants!”
It becomes quickly apparent to me that he’s less upset about the pants than he is about the fact that he ‘missed.’ He is relatively recently toilet-trained, and peeing like a ‘big boy’ is still a pretty major deal.
I rack my brain for a way to prevent a toddler-pee-mishap-meltdown when we’re still a quarter mile hike away from the car. I glance at my family, and the solution is standing there, grinning at me.
“It’s ok!” I say. “Everyone pees their pants sometimes! Even Karim pees his pants!”
A.’s head whips around, and he stares at Karim. “Karim peed his pants?”
And my long-suffering boyfriend, having not been born yesterday, takes the baton being passed unfairly to him, and sprints for the finish line.
“I sure did,” he says. “Everyone pees their pants sometimes.”
~ ~ ~
And thus, my family begins the hike back to the car, heading towards dry clothes, a warm fire, and hot pizza. A. is hanging on to one of my hands, one of Karim’s hands, splashing in the puddles, swinging between us at inconveniently slippery spots on the wet trail, and asking Karim, approximately once every twelve seconds:
“Karim? You peed your pants, too?”
And every time he answers A., Karim side-eyes me dryly, hauls A. over another log, and says,
“Yes, I did, A. Yes, I did.”