No one lives in the old house down near the river any more. The widow who planted the magnolia has been gone for years.
On my way to the grocery, I used to see her tending her flowers and once, when some of her black steers had made an escape to forage along the grassy roadside, I stopped to help her put them back. She seemed surprised --like a woman who had things well in hand -- but she thanked me when the last wayward critter was back in the pasture.
Years passed and on my weekly trips by the house, I became aware that now a daughter was living there with the widow. The old lady still pottered about in the yard but the middle-aged daughter was generally nearby.
Then one day, I saw the old lady striding down the road, making for the bridge. I stopped and asked if she wanted a ride.
'Yes, I do,' she said, climbing in to the front seat. 'I want to go to Walnut. I told my daughter but she's so dreadful slow.'
As we started for the bridge, she continued to talk and I suddenly realized that she was making no sense at all. That, in fact, I was probably abetting an Alzheimer's victim in her urge to wander.
'You know,' I told her, ' I'm afraid your daughter will worry -- maybe I'd best take you back home.'
The daughter was in the yard, looking for her mother when we returned. The old lady seemed relieved to be back home and the daughter accepted my explanation. That was the last I saw of either of them.
But when I saw the pink tree blooming the other day, I was taken with the notion that the old lady's spirit might wander back, of a spring evening, and sit in one of the lawn chairs under the saucer magnolia, savoring its glorious bloom.