Catalpa Grandma Catalpa trees are tall, and messy, with big sloppy blossoms that slap the ground when they wither, big garish flowers, too showy by half, on the ends of big-knuckled branches. The leaves are heart-shaped, so obvious, so needy, so beloved of hungry moths. I am on a sled, bundled in my own tiny coat with her extra one over that, tucked into a double cocoon of wool. I gaze over my runny nose at her long legs, Clad in my grandfather’s heavy pants as she pulls me through the snow. She is the strongest person I know. It is an odd tree for Chicago, a Southern tree misplaced by a confused gardener. A miracle, really, that the catalpa has survived, much less thrived. I think it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, And I sit on my grandma’s flowered davenport and tell her so. The apartment smells of fresh Parker House rolls. She is laughing. “I never understood,” she tells Evelyn, “why my mother said sixty was hard. “Now I know.” She has baked her own cake, puffy angel food, with whipped cream and strawberries. Most catalpas sprawl, but this one, on the parkway outside, has coiled upward, doing what city-dwellers do. In the spring, it wears a thousand Mother’s Day orchid corsages. In the fall, it sheds a million golden hearts. Her long fingers can braid my hair, but not play piano. When she was a girl, just my age, Her father was out of work, and all they had to eat that winter was a barrel of peanuts. She cries too much, and she says “born” and “barn” the same: “I was barn in Sparta, Illinois.” The catalpa’s seed pods are long and green. “We called them Indian cigars.” Her knuckles have swelled like the seeds in the pods, “I can’t wear my rings anymore.” Now she’s moved to Arizona, to a house with green stones Instead of grass. Things don’t grow up here, They just grow old. Nothing is as tall as the horizon is wide. Sometimes she leaves the tidy ranch house and drives the big Buick out into the desert to chase the tumbleweeds, to see the Saguaro cactus, her new totem, its big messy blossoms, too showy by half, its arms uplifted in victory or surrender.