The Cherry Tree
I was quite a young mother and very much a novice - before Hodmandod Major I had never held a baby in my arms before. I was afraid of drowning him in his bath, and awkward at changing his nappy and dressing him. I longed for him to sleep. I used to rock him in my arms trying to get him drowsy enough to place in his cot but his eyes would stay open: you just try it, they would say, and I'll start bawling again. Hodmandod Senior and I used to eat in shifts. One walking up and down the room to quieten him and then the other.
Then, when he was about four months old, we bought him a baby bouncer and fastened him into the harness. It was the sort that hung in the door way and after a few experimental bounces he went mad with delight. He whooped and yelped and bounced so vigorously I thought he was going to crash into the door frame. Hodmandod Senior and I looked at each other then made a break for the outside. For a while we stood together in the garden marvelling at our freedom while the baby laughed and gurgled on his own inside.
It was May. The sun was shining and the cherry blossom was out. At last I could believe that one day the baby really would play on his own. I went inside and picked him up and asked Hodmandod Senior to take a photo. Then he set the camera on a tripod and took a picture of all three of us together. Then one of us, I forget who, said, 'Let's do this every year, every time the cherry tree is in blossom.'
So we did. It quickly became a tradition. When we moved house we bought another cherry tree just so we would be able to continue what we had started. And of course each year Hodmandod Major grew - from a babe-in-arms to a baby supported on my hip, then a toddler at my knee and then a child and older brother to Hodmandod Minor. Then each year the two of them stood a little higher against the two of us, until one year they were my height, then the next both were smugly looking down at me.
It is strange to look back at these photographs, to see ourselves becoming older year after year. It reminds me of the protagonist in Anne Tyler's PATCHWORK PLANET who as a youth broke into house with his friends - not to plunder but to leaf through photograph albums and watch the faces change. There is something fascinating about how the human face ages and how an infant turns into a child and then a man. Some years we seem to creep into greater maturity and some years we seem to leap; but always the time between the photographs becomes shorter and shorter and I keep wondering why.