No Internet, but we had a tree to climb

Patricia Curran Sorrentino in her family's Bellmore yard Patricia Curran Sorrentino in her family's Bellmore yard around 1970. She writes how climbing a tree spurred her imagination. Photo Credit: Handout

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It was a scorching summer afternoon when I first took serious note of it . . . the old berry tree. There it stood, stretching to the heavens in the sprawling backyard of my childhood home in Bellmore.

I was barely 8 years old when I found myself precariously balanced on the arm of a yellow Adirondack chair, with my ponytailed head tilted upward, suddenly noticing the tree's presence and its magnitude, and at that moment it seemed to me that the very highest of its branches was within viable reach of a cloud cluster.

There was something rather captivating about the old berry tree. Maybe the source for my newfound intrigue was due in part to the era I was growing up in, a time comfortably woven in simplicity, when entertainment was contingent upon imagination. The Internet, video games and downloadable data were light years from fruition. It was an age when the scope of electronic devices was, indeed, minimal, defined only by a black-and-white television with a mere 13 channels, and a transistor radio.

Truth be told, the berry tree invoked creativity and imagination. There were summer days when I would climb up that tree and pretend I was aboard a ship, very often a pirate's ship. Other days my nautical jaunts were more academic, I was sailing with Columbus or accompanying George Washington across the Delaware.

My discovery of the old berry tree happened to coincide with the inaugural NASA expeditions, man landing on the moon, when the famous words of Neil Armstrong reverberated across our nation. Consequently, the old berry tree became my personal spaceship, and I was the very first female astronaut to blast off and orbit the solar system.

The old berry tree provided a literal bird's-eye view of the delicacies of nature. I recall one morning climbing up and within my reach was an intricate birds' nest. Not to mention its strong limbs; the tree seemed to gather and bundle in such a way that it actually created a hammock-like hideaway.

Many an afternoon, with a Nancy Drew book tucked under my arm and a small box of Chuckles candy, I would climb to my clandestine reading nook. By mid-August the berries on the tree would ripen to a deep purple indicating their readiness to be picked and eaten. The berries were delicious and safely edible at a time when pesticide spraying and hovering helicopters emitting mosquito repellent chemicals were unheard of.

Early on a summer morning, my brother, James, and I would embark upon a mission; we would collect as many ripe berries as we could for our bowls of Cap'n Crunch cereal. My brother, three years older than I, was clearly in charge of this morning adventure. The old berry tree certainly played an integral role in my brother's ingenuity and his spontaneous creativity. He invented the first fuel belt used by today's runners and hikers, though we didn't know it at the time.

His primitive predecessor to the modern day fuel belt: two of my father's old belts, one for him, one for me, proportionally cut to our size, with paper cups to hold the collected berries, securely fastened via Scotch tape and pipe cleaners. For certain, we were two very agile children . . . off and up we went.

As a child, it never occurred to me to inquire about the origins of the old berry tree. Was it always there? When had it been planted?

When my husband and I bought our house many years ago, there was a single rose bush in our backyard. In the past few years something else took root and began to grow, initially it could only be characterized as a mysterious greenery. We were uncertain what was emerging from the earth but we left it because it served an immediate purpose: it filled a rather bare area of the yard.

With the passage of time its identity has become quite apparent: It is, indeed, a berry tree! I now sit under the tree in an Adirondack chair and, as the wind blows and the tree limbs rustle, I hear the echoes of simpler days gone by and the distinct voices of two siblings out on a morning adventure.

Patricia Curran Sorrentino,Merrick

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