A (micro)cosmic tug

Barbara and Fern on a remote island in northern Illinois overlooking Lake Michigan.

After I read this morning’s prompt How far back in your family tree can you go?, I took Barbara for a walk and thought about her family tree.

Who was Barbara’s mother? Who was her father? Who were her litter mates? Are they still alive?

Beats me.

Some animals come with papers clearly delineating their pedigree. Barbara came with cuteness and little else. Compared to, say, the Queen’s corgis that date back 15 generations, there is very little recorded about Barbara’s heritage.

Here’s what I know: Barbara is a 12-year-old tan chihuahua from Chicago.

Here’s what I was told in 2011:

A college student bought the dog from a flea market and then decided nah. The young woman told her instructor about her chihuahua woes and he took the dog from her and said he’d find a home for it. His then-wife, an animal rights activist who had previously brokered the adoption of our first chihuahua (Toddy), asked us if we wanted “Annabelle.”

We said yes.

Jesse picked up the dog at State & Wabash and the two new pals drove home to Rockford. Upon meeting the dog, the family agreed that her name would be Barbara, after Barbara Bush.

As Barbara (my dog, not the ghost of the former first lady, although who’s to say she wasn’t there?) and I were walking along the pre-dawn streets of my neighborhood, I was lost in thought about pedigrees, puppy mills, flea markets and the like. Then I felt a cosmic tug on the leash. I looked up and noticed another “family tree.”

A family tree.

That’s my mom’s house and that pine is her tree. It’s the tallest tree in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving back to Rockford, I was driving home and realized I could see the trees from several blocks away and felt an absurd amount of pride. I didn’t shout, “The rest of y’all trees suck!” but I certainly thought it.

There are three trees in that section of her yard and they’re lovely but I don’t know the family tree about the family trees. I don’t know their age, what kind of pine tree they are, if someone intentionally planted them or if they’re volunteers.

Here’s what I do know:

In the 1970s, my brother adorned the trees with Christmas lights from top to bottom.

In the 80s, I climbed them.

In the 90s and on, my late father hung bird feeders on them and watched the avian activity from his porch swing.

“It’s a microcosm, Conniegirl,” he told me one afternoon when I was visiting from Minneapolis.

This was the nineties. Even though I was well into my twenties, it was the first time I ever heard the word and asked him what he meant. He, a teacher and a wordsmith, explained it to me scientifically and poetically. He used their compost bin as another example of a microcosm because he and my mom frequently saw snakes, insects and mice in it. He spoke to the essence of nurturing life, the importance of “turning the pile” and respecting the order of culinary events in a ecosystem, aka the “food chain.” Whenever I hear the word, I think, “Dad.”

I have a fascinating family tree but don’t have time to get permission to write publicly about them. Just know I am very proud of my family — the roots, trunk, branches, buds, leaves (fallen or fresh) and sap.

Thanks for reading.

Tugging the microcosm,


My dad’s swing.

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