by Charlotte Dovey
Erasmus’s parents owned a pretty stone cottage in the country, surrounded by wooded land and farm pastures lined with hedgerows. Behind the cottage garden there was a hedge that, in the midst of it, had a gate so people could pass through when out for a stroll. On the other side of that gate grew a wooded area with a clearing. On the edge of the clearing stood an ancient yew, much older than the cottage or possibly the rest of the wood. At the age of four Erasmus was not big enough to reach the latch on the gate, but he was old enough that he could easily scamper under the hedge on his own when his parents let him to play on his own. He did that often, to play on the yew tree – it had a great, wide truck made of many offshoots and endless, interconnected low branches that make climbing easy. As he grew, he was there more and more often, almost every day, at least the days that the rain was not too hard, after lunch and before afternoon tea.
At the age of six, there was a sudden, inexplicable change in the schedule of the house, and to Erasmus this was a disaster since he had never known anything but routine and security. His mother was taken to her bed and no longer made his meals and no longer tucked him into his own little bed or read him stories until he fell asleep. Instead, a nurse came and helped his father. Then, one night about a month later, Death came and abducted his mother in the night.
The days after were terrible. There were what seemed endless streams of people in and out of the cottage, older women crying, somber looking men in black suits. And his mother was gone. Then his father dressed him up in his little church suit and, holding his hand, led him to the church and churchyard where they buried his mother. It rained that day and Erasmus felt cold and desperately lonely.
After the people left, the house was quiet, quieter than Erasmus had ever remembered. When he was not in school he retreated to the yew and, holding it tightly around part of its great trunk, he cried, and he cried out that his mother was bad.
His mother’s soul, however, that was now in the underworld, suffered turmoil at the sight of her son’s grief and loneliness. She allowed her soul to get drawn into the yew tree’s roots, and from there absorbed into the massive trunk and branches, releasing her from the underworld. Her soul felt as great and large as the ancient tree itself. Almost every day for many years the boy came and sat on her branches.
As a teenager, Erasmus no longer climbed the tree, but he nevertheless retreated to the tree as other teenaged children would to their bedrooms. He lie under it reading or looking up through her branches. The yew could sense that her son pined for his mother and struggled with loneliness and anger for her loss. He was alone too much.
The yew has magic within it. This yew sent out calls to beckon a companion for Erasmus. One day, the neighbor’s daughter, who was out for a walk, felt compelled to wander into the clearing. She stood, captivated by the age and immensity of the tree. Erasmus saw her, and he was captivated by her.
They married several years later. They decided that the clearing was a lovely place to have a wedding luncheon, since that was where they met. The yew rejoiced at the sight of Erasmus and his new wife laughing and surrounded by their friends and relatives.
After he marriage, it was not long, particularly from the perspective of a yew, that Erasmus’s own children and then his grandchildren also love the tree and played in her strong arms.
Then Erasmus grew old and frail. Before he died, he left a plaque on the tree, “Bonne Maman” as a tribute to his lovely tree. He had willed that his ashes be scattered at her feet.
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