Since my father passed away in early December last year, I have been considering what tree I should plant to celebrate the person he was, in gratitude for the life and values he gave me, and to remember the unconditional love and encouragement he poured into me that allowed me to be the person I was meant to be.
Every tree that came to mind did not ring true to Daddy–until a few days ago when I received an email from Nancy Schneider, the tree and shrub manager of Stanley’s Greenhouse. Nancy asked me to remind our customers that she had finally been able to get in a large supply of ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia trees–the tree that Dr. Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens, had enthusiastically written an article about in our local paper last year:
As I researched the tree for my Facebook post, I knew this was Daddy’s tree, the one that symbolizes my dear sweet father, the tree that would grow, healthy and strong, year after year and remind me of Daddy. The ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia:
- Shines in full sun, but prefers morning sun, not the searing heat of afternoon sun. Daddy was indeed a morning person and did not care for the heat of Tennessee’s increasingly hot summers.
- Blooms with huge, showy, 5-inch-across flowers (that resemble a sunny-side-up egg: pure white with a yellow center) from summer through fall. Daddy was a bloomer, full of life, and exuberant about everything he loved: from the UT Lady Vols and the New York Yankees, his “girls” (my sister and me), and his fellow sports maniac grandson, Justin. He loved Mama too, of course, and she was the rock of his life that allowed him to truly have a home after losing his mother (who was originally from Carroll County, Virginia, a rural county of rolling hills, idyllic farms, and more than a few mountainous areas) when he was only 4 months old. Daddy also loved music and movies; and yes, he loved his eggs sunny-side up.
- Grows to be 20-30 feet tall which was true for Daddy as well, since he was a rather tall, good-looking man at 6 foot, 2 inches.
The ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia is a hybrid that possesses stronger qualities than its two parent plants. It is more resistant to Phytophthora disease than the Franklin deciduous tree and more cold-hardy than the evergreen loblolly bay. Sweet tea’s leaves are semi-evergreen, and it is more vigorous and more of a bloomer than either of its parents. This is also true of Daddy, as his sweet mother died at the age of 31, and his father was an ineffectual, illiterate man who did not protect Daddy from the deprivations that came his way as a motherless child. In contrast to his parents, Daddy lived life to the fullest, traveled widely, and followed his bliss in every way he knew how.
So yesterday I went to Stanley’s Greenhouse and bought Daddy’s ‘Sweet Tea’ Gordlinia; and today I planted it in a decidedly morning-sun location beside our house. The tree is full of buds, and I can’t wait to see the blossoms as they open over the next few weeks.
When I see this special tree growing year after year, I will think of all the ways that my Daddy is still with me.
Daddy is alive with us as long as we, his loved ones, remember fondly his eccentric, unique, adorable, exuberant ways, and how he showed us to live fully with great joy.
And yes, Daddy was a Southern man who liked his tea sweet.
~ Anna //5-31-2017