I wrote the paragraph below (for Paragraph Planet.com) last year after I’d been back to Birmingham for the usual summer visit to my family. During the holiday, I took my daughter to a park that I used to play in as a child; I’ve gradually been doing the rounds of favourite childhood haunts. Grove Park at one time formed part of a ‘rus in urbe’ estate of a well-known local family; now only the park and lodge house remain from former glories. When the city council took over the park’s management, it pulled down Grove Hall though some of the fine panelling was removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I only ever knew the grounds as a public park but the house and estate had still been in private hands when my granddad worked there as a gardener. I’ve done a little research on it as part of my interest in garden history though I’ve yet to write anything solid on the topic.
As we strolled around the lake watching the waterfowl, I explained to my daughter about the part that Grove Park had played in our family history. I was also waxing nostalgic about playing roly-poly as a child down the nearby grass bank. It was funny noticing how much the slope seemed to have shrunk in the intervening years; it was mildly terrifying when I was primary school age. The cedar tree by contrast still looks just as imposing as I always remembered it to be. Rather obvious I suppose, given that the tree has continued to grow whereas grass banks, alas, do not. We took pictures of ourselves to mark the occasion of our visit and the continuity of the cedar’s presence in our family tree (pun intended).
After we got back to Dublin I challenged myself to come up with a paragraph (the site’s word limit is seventy-five words per submission) to encapsulate how the old tree fitted into our family history. I was trying not to be sentimental about the past; instead I was trying to convey the emotional connection that I feel with this little bit of my past. The tree belonged to the owners of the ‘big house’ yet it also belonged to the staff and later still to the families who came to the public park. I wanted hint at the future, in the form of my daughter. Not easy in just seventy-five words and I’m not sure that it’s even possible. And it is a beautiful tree!
The cedar tree. It was planted in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the old photograph it stands proud in front of the house (demolished in 1963). The garden became a public park and often I played under that tree, not realising that my granddad had once been a gardener at the Hall. This summer I took a picture of my daughter under the tree because it’s a part of our family history too.
(submitted but not accepted for publication)