The Kissing Tree

tree

As long as Callie could remember, she loved to sit on her grandfather’s handmade glider under the gnarled spreading Oak tree in the front yard of his farmhouse. From that glider, she loved to look out over the lake.

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That tree and glider and lake held a special meaning for Callie. It was there, when she was about ten-years-old, she once happened upon her parents snuggling and talking sweetly to each other. It was a warm, Summer night, and she was sorta stuck, not wanting to make noise and let them know she had caught them, but not really wanting to see her mom and dad kissing either. That was just gross.

After they went back into the house, she sat again, watching the moon watching her as she sat on the glider. It was as if he, too, loved the lake and smiled on it, making it shimmer like blue velvet. The stars twinkled and sometimes looked as if one would chase another across the sky, playing games.

Her love for nature’s beauty had given Callie a love for sketching. She would find herself sitting in the glider for hours trying to capture the peace and beauty God had given her to enjoy. During the daytime, the tree shaded her while she sat and watched, the sun bright and warm. When there was a breeze blowing, the water rippled and sparkled like a huge bowl of diamonds. By the time she was in her early teens, she had done some pretty good work. Even her teachers encouraged her to pursue her love for art. She just couldn’t get her parents to take it seriously. They wanted college, real college, and they were insistent.

As she grew older, the tree and lake became the only things that never changed. One day she was slowly walking out to sit and do her homework on the glider when she noticed markings on the back side of the tree trunk. She was intrigued. It seemed the tree had been a favorite for many before her. As she looked closer to see who else had loved her tree, and obviously each other, she found her parents and grandparents names carved there with hearts around them, as well as others she didn’t know. Callie wondered if she would ever have someone special enough to carve their names for future generations to see.

By the time she was a junior, both of her grandparents had gone on to Heaven and her dad worked on the farm until the sun set every evening. Mom, too, was busy, working in the vegetable garden and keeping the old farmhouse clean, and good meals on the table.

All Callie was expected to do was go to school and prepare for college. Her parents wanted a better, easier life for her. She already knew what she wanted to do, she wanted to go to art school and really learn how to capture the beauty in life, the way she saw it. That was the only conflict between Callie and her parents, and neither she nor they wanted to consider the other’s wishes. Callie had taken every class she could to prepare for an Arts degree and had been applying to colleges that would further her ambitions, but her parents still insisted on a degree preparing her for “work in the real world.”

One warm afternoon she and her mom were sitting on the glider, watching the lake sparkle and ripple, almost lulling them both to sleep. Her mom pushed the glider with her foot and looked at Callie. “Honey, why do you have your heart set so firmly on Art? It’s a hard world out there and so few people actually make it in the arts, any of them. You know your dad and I just want what’s best for you.”

Callie looked at her, her eyes dark and brooding. “Mom,” she asked, “Best for me?” Turning to look directly at her mom, she said, “How can you look out across the lake, and sit under the branches of this old tree, the one your’s and dad’s names are carved into, and not see the beauty God has given us? Don’t you think maybe, just maybe, He has given some of us the ability to record this beauty? Some of us by writing about it, some by drawing and painting the images he so gloriously displays every day, and some of us He’s given the ability to physically care for and keep the beauty alive. You and dad are just as much artists of this beautiful place as I want to be.”

When her mom looked back from the lake, she had a tear running down her cheek. “Callie, I’m not sure your dad will see it that way, but you not only have the ability to preserve it, you have a deep love for it I know. I think that gives you the ability to express it in pictures. Maybe for those who can’t see it like we can.” She stood up, leading the way to the house. “Let me have those drawings and paintings you’ve done. I’m going to choose some and hang them. Let dad get used to seeing your talent!”

One evening they were getting ready to sit down for supper and he pointed at a painting. “Nancy, how long has that been there? Where did it come from?” He walked into the dining room and sat at his place, looking at the wall behind the sideboard. “I’ve never noticed these before. This one is almost an exact replica of the lake in the daytime. And that looks like our lake under the moonlight.” He got up from the table and walked over to the painting of the lake and tree together and smiled. “Look at that! Someone painted our tree!” In the painting, two people sat on the grass under the tree, embracing each other. He glanced down into the corner of the painting, reading his daughter’s name. Slowly, he turned, looking at her, seeing her in a different light. He blushed when he realized his daughter must have seen the youthful expression of their love carved so many years ago into the trunk of the Kissing Tree. His face had a deeper shade of red when he considered she might have also caught them kissing under that tree.

Callie smiled, teasing him, “Yes, Dad, I did, and I thought it was just gross.” Her eyes twinkled. “I wonder who the guy might be that I will kiss under that tree and carve our names there for all to see?”

“At least it hasn’t happened yet,” her dad said gruffly, sitting down at the table.

After discussing plans and looking into the place she really wanted to go, she registered at the College of Art and Design in a small town on the West Coast. She would never forget the day she received her letter of acceptance and the offer of a scholarship.

Callie was torn between her excitement about finally getting to start her career and leaving the family farm, the lake, and the tree. She could always come back, no matter how long she might be away, no matter where her future might take her. It was harder than she thought to say goodbye to her parents and to all she knew.

It took time for her to adjust to the cool, almost cloudless skies and endless water breaking onto the white, sandy beaches of California. The water, at least, held some familiarity to her small lake, if only in the way the sun played across its surface.

When she started her senior year, there were days and evenings she would just walk, consuming the beauty, the colors, and the landscape. She carried her camera and took shots of especially outstanding scenes. Sometimes she even wandered through galleries close to the school and by the bay. She envisioned her work on display in those galleries.

On other days she would take a canvas and pallet with her and sit for hours lost in the beauty, transferring her vision onto the canvas for others to see. She loved the solitude because it gave her a sense that all of this beauty belonged to her.

Callie was seldom aware there were other students and sightseers around, until late one afternoon a guy approached and quietly stood behind her. She was about ready to pack her things and go in. The light was almost gone and not giving her the colors and angles she wanted. When she turned and saw him, she quickly moved in front of the painting as if protecting it from unappreciative eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a slight smile. “I didn’t mean to intrude. And I assure you I’m not here to steal your “Ocean Fantasy.”” She still didn’t speak, nor did she relax her stance. She was studying him, as only an artist might, admiring his form and figure, a very athletic man, dressed in white shorts and a dark blue pullover, a light cardigan hanging over his arm.

“Are you just visiting the beach, or do you live around here?” Callie asked. “I’ve never seen you here before.” He took a step closer to the canvas, and she backed up to it. “That’s close enough!” she said emphatically. “It isn’t finished yet.”

“I understand,” he said, backing away a few steps, finally sensing her defensiveness.

Callie didn’t want the conversation to end, though. He was quite handsome and had a beautiful smile. “You haven’t told me where you came from, or why you’re so interested in my painting,” she asked.

“I’m sorry if I was too forward.” He held out his hand. “My name is Philip Green, and I own a small gallery near here.”

She shook his hand. “I’m Callie Williamson.”

“I’ve noticed you working here on the beach a lot, so I went to the college and did some research. Mr. Farrar is a friend of mine, and he showed me some of your pieces. I hope you don’t mind. He’s very proud of you. I like your work. You have a gift for painting life onto a canvas. I think you’d be a perfect fit.”

Callie looked at him, confused, trying to understand. Did he want her work in his gallery?

“I guess I’m not good at this, but I’m looking to take on an intern, someone to help me in the gallery. I’m not able to be there all the time and need someone to help me.”

Callie looked at him, a touch of disappointment on her face. “Oh.”

“You could continue at the college until you graduate and certainly continue to work on your pieces.” He took a deep breath. “I guess what I’m trying to do is offer you a position in the gallery, part-time. I would pay you a small salary and give you a chance to sell your work. On commission, of course.”

Callie was stunned. Showing her work and getting a salary! Becoming an assistant, and helping run a gallery — and still finishing her studies…wow! Her first instinct was to say, “Yes, thank you, when do I start?,” but her dad’s cautiousness took over and she looked at him for a long moment. “Mr. Green.” She spoke softly, “This sounds great, but would you also allow me some time to do some inquiring about your gallery, just like you’ve apparently done your research about me?”

There was a twinkle in his eye. “Smart, pretty and talented, what more could a guy ask for?” He smiled, lighting his whole face. “Of course. Here’s my card. The gallery is down from the college on Ocean Street.” He turned to walk further down the beach in the deepening dusk. She watched him. He turned, waved, and shouted, “Hope to see you soon.”

Callie watched as he casually tossed his lightweight cardigan over his shoulder. She wondered why she had never seen him on the beach before. Not that she noticed many people. Her focus was always on her work and finishing her studies. This one, though… She guessed him to be a few years older than she, but definitely more… what? Worldly didn’t seem to fit, but maybe knowledgeable and accomplished. Confident, somehow. His offer intrigued her. Mr. Philip Green himself intrigued her. Why did a vision of the kissing tree flash before her eyes?

Over the next few days, time seemed to run away from her. So much needed to be completed. She really wanted to finish this piece, but the days were getting shorter, giving her less time to capture the light in just the right way. She had other class assignments to complete, and Mr. Green’s offer was pushed to the back of her mind. Friday she would do something about that.

It dawned cooler than usual on Friday, the sun seeming to rise later and the sky overcast. Not the day she needed to finish the “Ocean Fantasy.” Callie went to Mr. Farrar’s class to turn in an assignment and asked a few subtle questions about a shop owner named Green.

Mr. Farrar smiled and said, “You mean Phillip Green, the owner of the Seagull Gallery over on Ocean Street? Yes, I know him. Not only does he own the Seagull, he has several other galleries up and down the coast.” He looked at her, his eyes shining. “Why do you ask?”

She felt like a teenager trying to track down a movie star for an autograph. “No reason in particular, I just ran into him on the beach and he told me he used to be a professor here at the college.”

“Yes, dear, you might add that to his resume as well. He’s quite accomplished, actually.” And he talked for another twenty minutes about Mr. Green before she was able to tear herself away.

The next morning she dressed in a red sundress and a white cardigan. She wore sandals and took a large straw bag draped over her shoulder. There was an Open sign hanging outside the door to the Gallery, but no one answered her greeting, so she tentatively walked in. The interior was cool and the lighting was dim at first.

Callie had brought a couple of her pieces, one of the lake and the kissing tree, wanting his opinion of some of her earlier work and how she might improve it. She looked around for a few minutes and after no one acknowledged her presence, started for the door.

“Callie! It’s good to see you!” She turned in the direction of the voice. There was Philip — Mr. Green — standing at the very back of the Gallery, talking with a tall, blond woman. She heard him say, “Excuse me, Gloria, I need to speak with Ms. Williamson for just a bit.” There was a smile on his face that extended to his eyes. He turned back briefly, “I’ll let you know if I run across just what you’re looking for.”

She was pretty sure she knew what Gloria was looking for, and it wasn’t on a canvas. As the blond woman left the shop, there was no mistaking the look she directed at Callie.

Mr. Green seemed oblivious to the undercurrent as he reached out a hand in welcome. “I hope this means you’ve completely investigated my character and found me an acceptable employer.” He chuckled. “Please, call me Philip. May I call you Callie? It’s such a beautiful name.” He guided her to the same counter he was standing at earlier.

“Yes sir, on both accounts,” she stumbled. “I would love to take you up on the offer, if — that is — it’s still open, and certainly you may call me Callie.”

They shook hands and he reached under the counter and retrieved some paperwork. “I took the liberty to have these forms drawn up, in the event you took my offer. Let’s go into the courtyard and you can look them over.” She put the artwork away. Now was not the time.

Time seemed to fly, and Callie found herself engrossed in many different projects, a few at the Gallery, many at school, and some on her own. She finished some of the pieces she had started and put them out for display. By the time her classes were done, she had gotten comfortable with Philip and asked him to preview her earlier work. She held her breath while he looked the pieces over. He took them out into the light and stayed for a long time. She began to think he didn’t know how to tell her it was no good.

He came in, a smile on his face, and said, “Callie, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this, but I know just the buyer for this piece of art. You’ve caught the moonlight perfectly across the lake and the tree’s reflection…a perfect mirror image. Where did you do this piece? Certainly not here in Cali.”

She was stunned that someone might want to purchase her beginning work and wasn’t sure how she felt about parting with it. “I painted it on our property, in Mississippi. I call it “The Kissing Tree.”

They talked about the painting for awhile, and she told him about her family’s farm. He commented on the glider and even the names carved into the bark of the old oak. She told him stories of other names carved into the tree, of seeing her mom and dad under the tree when she was small. In the end, she said, “Really, I’m not sure I want to sell this piece. It means a lot to me.”

He smiled, and said, “I understand. But I can tell you the gentleman who wants to buy it would truly appreciate it. He would treasure it as a part of his collection of similar paintings.”

She thought about it, watching his face, trying to read his eyes. “This is really a priceless work to me. I wouldn’t even know how much to ask for it.”

He quoted her a price, and her mouth dropped open. “It really is that good,” he assured her. She swallowed hard, thinking about the painting and what it meant to her. But there was also the realization that her work would be hanging in a place where it would be honored by the owner. She agreed, and Phillip gave her the rest of the day off.

Before she left the Gallery, he said, “Callie. Would you meet me down on the beach in about an hour?”

As she reached the end of the cobblestone walk, she looked back over her shoulder. He was standing in the doorway, still watching her. Callie stood for a moment taking in the look on his face. She smiled and gave him a light wave, continuing on. She went home and changed quickly, keeping it light, not knowing what he had in mind.

After she left, he took the “Kissing Tree” to the back and told the framer to find a prominent place in the gallery to hang it — and put a “sold” placard under it. Smiling, he walked toward the beach as the sunset reflected on the water.

That evening was the first in many long strolls on the beach. Sometimes they would choose a restaurant and have a nice dinner, sometimes they would take a picnic and sit enjoying the waves as they splashed on the beach. There were days he would walk in and announce they were closing the shop and going on an adventure. He never ceased to amaze her. Callie had slowly begun to realize she had stopped seeing him as a gallery owner, an artist, or even an employer. She was seeing him through eyes of love. Just when it happened, she wasn’t sure.

One day while working in the gallery, a customer came in through the patio door. Philip was unpacking a shipment of pieces and Callie was at the counter listing them into inventory. She was telling him a story and he looked up, laughing, a twinkle in his eyes. “Excuse me,” a woman’s voice said, sounding irritated. “I certainly don’t want to break up your party, but could someone please help me? I’d like to choose a piece for a very special person.”

They both turned to her at the same time. It was Gloria, and in rare form. “Well, Philip, I would have thought after you hired some help for the gallery, you wouldn’t have needed to unpack your own stock. Obviously, I was wrong.” She gave Callie a dismissive gesture, turning back to Philip. “Never mind, I’ve been abroad anyway. Now that I’m back I’m planning a Gala and want to use the gallery to host it.” She looked at Callie, “How long do you think you’ll need to have the place cleaned and Philip’s best pieces rehung and ready for showing?” Gloria hadn’t stopped long enough for either of them to respond. Callie didn’t know what to say, so she turned to look at Philip.

Philip walked over to stand in front of Callie as if protecting her from an evil force. “I’m sorry, but I don’t really know that your plans fit into ours, or if we’re even interested in your plans.”

She walked — slithered, Callie thought — to Philip’s side, putting her very manicured hand on his arm, and said, “My, I have caught you at a bad time, haven’t I? Why don’t we meet for a drink at Ralph’s and start over? I’m just not used to having to make an appointment to talk to you when your helper isn’t present.”

That’s when he surprised at least two of the people in the shop, possibly all three of them. “Gloria, I would like to introduce Callie, my Assistant and…” He turned his back to Gloria, forcing her to take a step back. Then he took Callie’s hand. “I hadn’t realized until now how shallow my life had been before I met this lady standing on the beach protecting her canvas with such bravery.” He paused, and then said, “Callie, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Callie looked deeply into his eyes and found what she was looking for. The answer was easy after that. “Yes,” she smiled and repeated it again, “Yes, I would be honored.” Paying no attention to the stunned Gloria, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, not once, but twice. At some point during the second kiss, they vaguely heard her say, “Well, good luck, Philip. See you around.”

He turned her loose and she leaned on the counter for balance. “I haven’t done this on a whim, my sweet Callie. I’ve been planning to ask you for some time, maybe since the first day we met on the beach. With Gloria acting the way she was, I just realized this was the right time. And a good way to get rid of her forever.”

He went to the door and closed it, turning the sign. They sat on the two stools behind the counter. He asked, “Would you mind having a small, family service? Maybe under the Kissing Tree? We have to carve our names and the date before it would be official anyway.” Watching for her reaction, he said, “We can bring your parents here afterward and have a reception, show them what an Arts degree can give you.”

Callie looked at the painting on the gallery wall. All she could think of was taking her forever love home to sit in the glider and watch the moon shimmering on the lake, then embracing and carving their names into the Kissing Tree.

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Please share a passion that led to an outstanding event in your life, or a career path that nurtured your spirit.

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