“Hey! Hey Cora! Look at me!”
I looked up from my paperback. Somehow, Rose had hoisted herself up and into a little red wagon that stood by the fence. The little girl stood there, precarious but triumphant, her small arms stuck out to the sides for balance. I laughed inwardly at the look of mixed surprise and pride on my younger cousin’s sweet face.
“Rose, honey, get down from there. Remember what happened last time?” I said, lifting her gently down from the wagon.
“Uh huh,” said Rose rather sadly, fingering the small bruise on her forehead, obtained in a similar incident two days earlier. “I just like to be up high.”
“I know you do, Rose, but it’s still dangerous. How do you think your mommy would feel if you fell down again?”
Rose looked up at me seriously, considering. “Well, first she would be angry at me cause I’m not supposed to climb things. Then she’d yell at you for not taking care of me better. But after a while,” she proclaimed, brightening, “she would say that she was just glad I was safe and give me a Popsicle.” She looked up and grinned. “Can I have a Popsicle right now?”
Not for the first time, I marveled at the four-year-old girl’s intellect. She was so observant for her age, sometimes it was frightening. “Not right now. Later, OK?”
She nodded, then noticed something. “Cora, you brought your camera. Why,” she wondered aloud, “why did you bring your camera? Were you gonna take pictures?”
“I thought I might, yes. Do you want me to take a picture of you, Rose?” The truth was that I had hoped to snap a few photos of my little cousin for my photography class.
“Yeah! Yeah!” Scrambling excitedly, Rose ran to the fence. Turning around, she posed, one hand sassily placed on a little hip, the other thrown high, palm up, with the fingers trailing slightly, a movie star smile on her little face. Rose would have been a miniature model, if it weren’t for the knitted red-and-navy-blue sweater hanging around her torso in woolly folds. I resisted the urge to laugh, picked up my digital camera, and clicked. Rose dropped the model stance and dashed over to see the screen. We both laughed at the ridiculously adult pose.
“I look funny, don’t I? Like the ladies in Mommy’s mazzageens. Is it later? Can I have a Popsicle now?”
Reminding her for the hundredth time that it was mag-a-zines, not mazzageens, I ruffled my little cousin’s hair fondly. “No, it’s not quite later enough yet. Wait a little longer,” I said mildly, and returned to my book. Rose was truly a remarkable kid.
For a few minutes, the small novel I held captured my attention. I leaned back in my cushioned lawn chair. Rose had settled comfortably down with a shovel and pail in the patch of dirt designated for her digging. I was sure she wouldn’t move for a while.
Then suddenly, the cry came again. “Cora! Cora, lookit! Lookit me!”
My head snapped up. Not the wagon again! But it wasn’t the wagon. It was Rose’s tree.
Who knows how she did it? But in one way or another, Rose had climbed to a perilous perch again—when I looked up, her little body was wedged in a crook of the apple sapling her parents had planted when Rose was born. This was Rose’s tree, a monument to her life. She loved it fiercely and was never so happy as when she was, as now, nestled in its branches. My first instinct was to jump up and rescue my little cousin, but she looked perfectly safe and happy there in the tree, and I couldn’t resist the obviously perfect photo op. Snatching up my camera, I snapped a quick shot of the scene, then dropped my camera onto a cushion and lightly disentangled Rose from the tree.
“Rose, I told you, no more climbing stuff!” I chided, a little more harshly than I intended. I could see my tone have an effect on her, her little shoulders sagging and her normally sparkling eyes downcast. I immediately felt guilty, gathering her up and whispering reassuring words in her little ear.
“I’m sorry, Cora,” she said sadly. “I just wanted to see if I could get up by myself.” She brightened slightly. “You took a picture, didn’t you?”
“I guess I did,” I said, remembering. Snapping the photo, jumping up and lifting Rose out of the tree were blended in my memory in one streamlined movement. I found it difficult to recall the moment of actually pressing the shutter button. I pulled up the photo on the small screen and looked for a long moment.
In the photo, Rose’s knees were hooked over the spot where two of the branches met, her short little legs hooked over each other in a surprisingly ladylike manner. Her chubby left hand was coiled tightly around the nearest bough, and her right stuck out slightly in front, the elbow cupped between knee and branch. Rose’s face was turned straight toward the lens, and her crinkled eyes and half-grin made it seem as though she and I were sharing a secret or private joke—not funny enough to cause real laughter, but full of wit nonetheless.
Looking at the surprisingly good picture, I struggled to make sense of my emotions. The picture made me want to laugh, but it strangely seemed to make me slightly sad as well. I knew that it was silly, but I had a sense that the tree, the one object Rose loved most, would one day be cut down. I wondered why this seemed so evident.
At that moment, I knew I would save this photo. If future generations asked about it, the most truthful reply would be to say that this was Rose, that the picture summed up her as well as anything could. Because it did.
Would Rose even remember this? After she had gone to school, grown up, had a million other things happen in her life, would she still recall one afternoon when she was four? I decided she would, because I would remind her of it. I would show her the picture and describe the circumstances in great detail because I had gotten a special feeling from this afternoon in the yard. It was, I felt, worth remembering.
Lost in thought, I felt a small tug on my sleeve. “Can I see?” queried Rose softly.
I lowered the camera down to her level. Rose leaned in and looked at the screen for a long moment, then turned back to me and gave her funny little grin.
“I like it. Am I allowed to climb my tree again?”
“Rose!” I laughed. “No, you can’t climb the tree. Sorry, honey, it’s just not safe!” Rose’s face fell again. Then she brightened and chirped, “OK. Can I have a Popsicle now?”