The Playroom: The memory tree

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

There is a tree we pass when we walk to and from the lake. As we walk by, the dog approaches it, sniffs, pauses. This tree holds memories for me, and I would like to think the dog has found them, that some part of me he can sense still lingers there in the roots tangled in the sand. But realistically, he’s just looking for a place to pee.

There is a tree in front of my house that holds memories for me, too. I had a dog named Ace who liked to pee on that tree. In a never-ending daily battle to mark his territory as other dogs came and went, Ace was always bolting out the front door.

When Ace was alive I cursed the tree because the circularity of the equation drove me crazy. The dog constantly bolting out the front door to pee on that good-for-nothing tree, some other dog walking by, Ace bolting out the front door again, some stranger yelling at me to leash my dog, me out on the front lawn apologizing once more. I was ready to take that accursed tree down. But I like this tree now, because since Ace died the tree reminds me of him.

Every time I look out my front room windows, pull up in my car or walk the kids to school, I see the tree and think, “That’s the tree Ace always liked to pee on.” I think of Ace and I smile and know that’s Acey’s in heaven, getting to bolt out the front door and pee on that tree.

And I think it’s funny, not in a ha-ha kind of a way but in an ironic sort of a way, the way random, innocuous things will remind me of something or someone, I want to remember.

I wonder what will remind me of this later winter day. Walking by the lake with my children and my dog?

We walked for two hours in the cold without seeing another person. We crunched through the ice and picked up sticks and put ice crystals in our pockets, ran with the dog and wondered how far out into the lake the frozen sandbar went, got nervous and walked back in.

We walked even after our gloves were wet from playing in the ice that covered captured pools of water and our boots no longer kept out the cold. With runny noses and cheeks stinging from the wind, we kept walking, always finding something else worth running toward.

Saint Augustine once said to a group of people, “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, it is not God.”

I am awed by the way nature has created mountains out of ice, water, snow and sand, my thoughts and my joy tangled up in the laughter of my children and the beauty of the dog as he enjoys his unleashed freedom. I am standing there beside the sky not understanding any of it. This joy, my eternity?

What will remind me of this day I want to remember?

Maybe it will be the next time I walk for hours in the cold without seeing another person, a stanza from a poem I read on a winter’s afternoon or re-visiting Saint Augustine. Maybe it will be that tree, the one we always walk by on our way to and from the lake, the one the dog likes to pee on.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at