Tom Wilson’s Tree
Tom Wilson, epitomized the quiet kindness of the Wilson family. His name came up in conversation a few weeks ago, after Hurricane Irma had blown through Florida during the second week of September 2017. Tom had planted a coconut palm tree in our front yard, which kept on growing. Because several of it’s branches broke away in the wind, the wife said she wanted to cut down the tree. You cannot do that, I retaliated, it’s our memorial to Tom. That tree will not endanger our home. Tom never harmed a soul, I told my wife who is his little sister.
It was at the funeral of their family matriarch, Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson, that I glimpsed Tom’s character. In his arms was a weeping younger brother, both of them grown, both in grief, but Tom was the comforter. Over the years this man showed himself to be an icon of the easygoing Wilson clan – a family that quietly blessed their community.
Stereotypes tell lies
Stereotypes are terrible. Growing up in the scattered islands of the Bahamas we received a distorted image of African Americans. Movies showed them as jive time simpletons, News reports characterized them as criminals, and folk lore said they were lazy and lacked ambition. I internalized this. Why would I, persuaded by peers to be proud and insular, marry an American? What would a real “born there” Bahamian think? Especially since my first marriage was to a Non-Bahamian – Jamaican. Would they whisper that he has strayed from whence he came.
I did marry an African American. Also, I overheard that she had married a Bahamian. Maybe this thing goes both ways. Nonetheless, my internal perceptions shifted [a private admission] as the Wilson family, my new in-laws, destroyed the distortion of media, movies and folk-lore regarding this group of African descendants.
How? Let’s start with the bright minded Lillie Wilson Parker, science teacher. She defines Christian outreach; quietly she keeps up with medical appointments and prescriptions for family members; she is always lending and giving away money. Her husband, was renowned in the city gates as a community activist, but once he said to me, quietly, I get the accolades but Lillie is the saint. My African American sister-in-law reminds me, like a mirror image, of my sister Nell, family educator and caretaker, a lady from the Bahama Islands.
Then I met the reclusive Marva Collins. If you “Google” that name you will be hit with images and articles of the Chicago Educator who taught students to brilliant achievements when the school system had written them off as hopeless. Ironically, our Marva is an educator, a retired librarian, but one that excels without applause. She got the Collins surname from her husband, a football coach turned principal. He was inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame. I sat with the family during the ceremony. Nate and Marva, high school sweethearts, were married forever, making Nate a member of the extended Wilson company.
To date, of the eight Wilson siblings, only Lillie, Marva and my wife Barbara remain. The eldest sister, Ida Wilson Anderson died about a week before my eldest sister, Thelma, passed away; we had just come home from Ida’s funeral when the call came from Edna, another of my sisters, “Thelma expired.” What was that? This happened three years ago, 2014 – the year we, Mike and Barbara Wilson Brennen, buried our big sisters, one in Delray Beach, Florida, the other in Nassau, Bahamas.
I insist that Tom’s coconut tree must remain. It goes back to a vague memory of the coconut palms in my childhood backyard. The trees had names. One was called Thelma, taller, which you had to climb to get the fruit, the other was called Edna, another older sister, shorter [referring to tree and person 😎], which had fruit within easy reach.
What is the concluding thought of this argument? Perhaps this childhood sentiment has crossed over from Bahama isles to Florida peninsula. Maybe the Wilson family spirit has crept into my soul, especially after I resolved to bloom where planted, South Florida. In any case, let’s keep Tom’s tree planted, I say to Barbara. And that is not all, another palm tree, this one from Marva and Nate Collins, is also firmly planted in the front yard. Guess what, when that one gets taller, the same argument will apply –keep the tree. It means family.