Valentine Pine Beetles


“It’s pine beetles,” my mother said.

“Pine beetles?” I asked.

“Those dead trees in the back yard,” mom explained in a tone of voice one normally reserved for announcing a cancer diagnosis. “Your dad had a guy come out to the house and look at them, and he said it’s pine beetles. The trees have got to go.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But hey, pine trees aren’t much to look at anyway. At least you’re not losing the river birches.”

“It’s not the trees I’m worried about,” she said. “It’s the expense. Six hundred dollars to take them down.”

“Six hundred dollars?!” I said.

“Yep. Three trees. Two hundred bucks a tree. Six hundred dollars.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, and then, in a vain attempt to lighten her mood, I changed the subject.

“Valentine’s day is this weekend,” I said.

“Is it?” she asked.

“It is,” I said. “It’s Saturday. Are you and Dad going to do something special?”

“I reckon we will have these pine trees taken down. Six hundred bucks. That will be special enough for me.”
That is my mother, and that has been her outlook on receiving gifts for as long as I can remember.

The transmission needs to be rebuilt: Just in time for my birthday!

The putrid smell in the house turns out to be a dead opossum in the duct work which needs to be removed by an exterminator: Happy anniversary to us, Byron!

The orthodontist recommends a root canal on that second molar: Did somebody say, Happy Mother’s Day?

The pine beetle incident was over ten years ago, and while my parents were thirty-plus years into marriage at the time that those trees were cut down, I was a young bride. Mom’s notion that resolutions to expensive emergencies counted as gifts flew in the face of everything I believed about love and romance, and if she was content to receive stump-grinding and dental care as gifts, then I would regard her as a cautionary tale, not an inspiration.

What I wanted for Valentine’s Day that year, and what I thought she should want, was validation. I wanted proof that I was thought of. Cared about. Valued.

After getting off the phone with my mother that afternoon, I told my husband about the pine beetles. I explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that money spent for an emergency did not count as a gift.

“And what is it that you do you want for Valentine’s Day?” he asked.

“Surprise me,” I said. And if it was a thoughtful surprise at the time, it is a forgotten detail now.

I don’t remember the specific trinkets I’ve unwrapped over the past sixteen years of marriage. Not many of them, What I remember instead are the many repairs that, together, we have arranged for our vintage (read: super old and impractical) house. I remember the countless nights during which we took turns with fussy babies. I remember funerals. Layoffs. Flat tires. And with each ordeal, I remember the peace of knowing that he had my back.

Our hardships are temporary, but our commitment toward one another is permanent. It is that way in a time-worn marriage. It is love, if not conventional romance, and it is a gift, indeed.

A dead opossum, thought. That still doesn’t count. I’m drawing the line at dead opossum removal.


18 Comments on “Valentine Pine Beetles

  1. My wife and I have always been the same way about gifts. We buy stuff with our shared bank account for ourselves all year long. Now the one thing she misses are the handwritten cards that I used to give her. I’ll think I’ll get back to doing that.

  2. I had to laugh at your story. My youngest and her fiancé just took a rather expensive weekend trip as an early Valentine’s celebration. All I could think about when I learned the cost was: Good thing they don’t have a house or kids ’cause that money would have been gone, gone, gone! Not that I’m against Valentine’s Day, but I’m content with a simple hug and “I love you” – save the cash for those unexpected repairs to the car and house and all those upcoming medical bills.

    • Todd put a box in my trunk this week, and it contains stuff I’ll need if I get stuck on the hwy in an ice storm: a blanket, bottled water, etc. Is that sweet or what? Sure hope I never need it.

  3. Hey, I got to shoot little plastic pellets at my roof-eating squirrel this morning. Pine beetles would be harder to hit. Marriage is tough work….none are easy, so hang in there and keep reminding yourself of what you two saw in each other in the first place….the payoff in the end is great. (oh, and this quote made me laugh outloud):

    The orthodontist recommends a root canal on that second molar: Did somebody say, Happy Mother’s Day?

  4. Oh,my…your story had – no scratch that – has me in stitches – figuratively of course. Your Mom is not just practical, she down right hilarious! Thank you for sharing your story… I lost my Mom a while back and your story took me back a bit to my time with Mom – Bless her soul. You keep writing and I will keep cheering 📣 you on. Have a good February!

  5. Your story made me laugh so much that I decided it was a good thing to send you this here thank you note. You keep writing like this and I am certain two things will happen eventually: One, you will grow wiser and your husband will be mighty prouder of you and two, I will cheer so loud you will know how big a fan you have made me just by putting words on a computer 💻 screen. Bless your heart for bringing my mother’s memory back to me like this – yep, you guessed it you Mom sounds much like mine. Sadly she passed on years ago. Have a grand February, Ma’am.

  6. As a teacher in a rural region of the America South hit hard by the recent recession, I don’t get many gifts from my students; when I do, it tends to be either coffee or books (What can I say? They know me!). But the student that stands out is the one whose family arranged for my wife and I to receive brand new tires for our only vehicle – not just the expense mind you, but for the thought and effort it took to make such a thing happen.

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