Gut Rumbles
 

June 10, 2008

Chinaberry trees

Originally published November 5, 2003

If you've never played in a chinaberry tree, you missed something growing up. I don't see many of them around Savannah anymore, but I remember them being everywhere when I was a child.

I see them every time I drive the back roads coming home from north Georgia. Usually chinaberry trees are growing large and wild over some abandoned, dilapidated outbuilding on a farm and their branches seem to be hugging that old, weathered wood the way a mama hugs a baby. This time of year, the berries are yellow.

The berries are no good to eat (I believe that they are poisonous), but they make damn fine ammunition. Get a pocketfull of chinaberries and a slingslot, and you're fixed for war. If my mama knew half the shit my friends and I did with chinaberries when I was young, she'd have a heart attack.

I wrote a song about a chinaberry tree. Here are the words:

I remember Grandma's porch swing
It swayed with a squeaky noise
I must have heard that a thousand times
When I was a little, bitty boy
She had a bird bath in her back yard
Where I always liked to play
And a chinaberry tree for climbing
That I remember to this day.

My grandpa was a carpenter
And his old workshop was filled
With hammers, nails and scraps of wood
For the treehouses we would build
With a little imagination
Me and my friend, Lamar
Could defend a fort against Indians
Or fly a spaceship to the stars.

CHORUS:

(I get to wishing every now and then
That I could go back to way back when
I was a kid in a chinaberry tree
And life seemed simple to me)

My mama always warned me
That I was gonna put out my eye
But I never could resist the thrill
Of a good chinaberry fight
Those berries stung like BBs
When they hit you good and hard
But I was John Wayne with a slingshot
Waging war all over the yard.

(CHORUS)

That tree blew down in a hurricane
Some 40-odd years ago
When grandpa died, they sold the house
And grandma just grew old
Me, I'm growing older, too
With a wife and a family
But sometimes in my sleep at night
I dream of a chinaberry tree

Yeah, I get get to wishing every now and then
That I could go back to way back when
I was a kid in a chinaberry tree
And life seemed simple to me.

It's really a pretty good song.

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