She spreads her leafy arms silently from just beyond the black metal fence that lines the eastern edge of the car wash property. Like an aged supervisor, she looks down at the queue of cars, waiting their turns for their baths.
Carolina Car Wash has dwelt at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro line since before I moved here 41 years ago. Main Street to the west, Franklin toward the east and eventually the campus of the oldest public university on the nation. A respected local institution.
One enters the property on a driveway alongside the building, heading south, then curves hard to the left, up a gentle slope to the entrance to the washing tunnel. One by one, the cars inch forward as each gets its turn in the bath. Right at the top of the curve stands the massive, old tree, its trunk much too big to hug, its arms reaching in all directions, making shade. Several prominent bumps betray earlier surgeries meant to tame limbs that had gotten in the way.
Waiting in line forces one to pause, slow the heart rate, ignore the phone, think, look around. Observe the world for a few minutes. The big tree dominates the view as one slowly eases the car up the sloping curve. Can’t miss that tree. Admire it. Wonder about its history.
No one knows how long that tree has been there, but surely many decades have passed since its sapling days. She (Why do we ascribe the feminine pronoun to trees?) has celebrated multiple Tar Heel national sports championships, endured snow and ice storms and heat waves, seen racial unrest, political shenanigans, births, lives and deaths of countless local characters both well-known and anonymous.
And she lives on, smiling down on the drivers waiting their turns. She’ll be there long after we’re gone. I’m certain of it.