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Two siblings, one tree, and one broken arm

by Bonnie McGill

I’m telling you he was throwing sticks at me and wouldn’t stop. So I did what any little sister would do when verbal communication fails to bring about a change in your older brother’s behavior: give them a little shove. That’ll get their attention. And it sure did.

It was August 1995, think President (Bill) Clinton, Toy Story and Garth Brooks. I was 11 and my brother, Tim, was 13. (The photos at left were taken in ~1987 and 2016.) We had been climbing trees together all our lives in western Pennsylvania. That day we were up in the silver maple tree in what is now our dad’s backyard. At the time this was a house my parents rented out. The tree was (and still is) a fine specimen of good old Acer saccharinum: DBH (diameter at breast height) about 1.5 feet, nearly two stories tall, at the edge of the yard next to a small creek, and a beautiful show of color in the fall. Sounds so tranquil, doesn’t it?

Well not that day. When I shoved Tim to get him to stop throwing sticks at me it was never my intention to knock him off balance so that he would fall about 15 feet to the ground and break his arm…but that’s what happened. I don’t even remember climbing down the tree, but I clearly remember standing over him as he shouted and writhed in pain. When he opened his eyes from his tight grimace and saw my face he shouted, “YOU SON OF A [BLEEP]”! And me, being the oh-so-literal smart aleck that I am, said quite calmly, “No, I’m not a son of a [bleep], I’m a [bleep].” In full transparency, I may have even wagged my finger. Oh I can hardly imagine the fury he felt toward me at that moment, but it probably sounded something like this. He just shouted, “Go. Get. Mom!” which I did in a flash. We piled in our faux-wood-paneled 1980 Buick station wagon and took him to the emergency room lickity split.

Fast forward about 20 years. This is one of a small collection of touchstone memories my brother and I cherish. When he introduces me to a friend, he is so proud to tell them what a terrible sister I am because I pushed him out of a tree and broke his arm. I think it helps level the playing field, i.e., even though I have a Ph.D. and escaped our Rust Belt town, I’m still just a pesky little sister. And it’s something we laugh about the few times we are together and not yelling at each other. You see, since 1995 many things have changed: our parents divorced and sold the farm, meaning our childhood home and the creek and woods we grew up in belong to someone else now, my dad now lives in the house with said maple tree, Tim served in the ARMY in Iraq in 2007-2008, and we as people and the lives we live could hardly be any more painfully different. But it’s these few, cherished, shared experiences that, no matter how distant our two planets seem to be, will always bring us back together—to that maple tree at dad’s house in the summer of 1995.

Bonnie is a scientist and artist who now lives on the prairie in Kansas with her beloved old dog, Bowie. Bonnie is also a co-founder of Plant Love Stories and created our logo!


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