From Crab Apples to Lemon Trees

In June 1962, a month before my fifth birthday, I stood alone outside the west wall of my brick childhood home. I wore my high-top Keds and cargo shorts with crazy pockets. The wind raced past my crew cut.

Our three-bedroom ranch in south suburban St. Louis appeared identical to two dozen others in the neighborhood, except ours featured a flowering pink crab apple tree with stair-step limbs I loved to climb.

In the shade of the branches, a clear thought jumped to the forefront of my brain. “I am different. I have important things to say.” The idea lingered and swirled through my consciousness.

As I look back at that vivid memory—one of my earliest—I must have recognized I was unlike most of the other boys. At that young age, I must have known I was gay. I must have begun to identify a need to share my thoughts and tell my stories one day.

Since that moment, I have lived at least four lives—shaped by local geography—and written four books. I have played in the red earth of North Carolina, navigated the rolling hills of Missouri, survived the flatlands of Illinois, and discovered the peaks and valleys of Arizona.

I never imagined I would live and write in my sixties in the rugged landscape of the Sonoran Desert, but the trail of life has led me here to the threshold of publishing my fourth book, I Think I’ll Prune the Lemon Tree. It will appear on Amazon (in paperback and Kindle versions) in late January or early February. Of course, once it is available for purchase, I will let you know.

In the first three years of my Arizona residency—2017 through 2020—the Grand Canyon State has enriched and shaped my life with natural beauty, profound uncertainty, and joyful humor. My goal was to reflect all three in this book, and develop a larger narrative about a gay man and his husband fulfilling their dreams, reflecting on their experiences, hoping to survive a global pandemic, and aging in a bold landscape.

If you are drawn to the themes I explore here on my blog and in my books—nature, family, community, heritage, human rights, humor, love, loss, health, truth, diversity, and creativity—I think you will enjoy reading my latest book.

Of course, nearly six decades have passed since I stood by that flowering pink crab apple tree I loved as a child. It has been replaced by the citrus trees that surround Tom and me in our sixties in our Scottsdale condo community. But the value of memory and storytelling is that I can remember the most important trees, past and present. I can choose to honor each of them.

Little did I know that one day a luscious lemon tree, thirty feet outside my front door, would inspire me to write and share the broader stories of my Arizona life.

13 thoughts on “From Crab Apples to Lemon Trees

  1. Can’t wait to purchase your latest book. Love your writings.

    Hugs, Carol

    On Fri, Jan 15, 2021 at 7:20 AM Mark Johnson Stories wrote:

    > Mark Johnson posted: ” In June 1962, a month before my fifth birthday, I > stood alone outside the west wall of my brick childhood home. I wore my > high-top Keds and cargo shorts with crazy pockets. The wind raced past my > crew cut. Our three-bedroom ranch in south suburban” >


  2. My childhood memories of my crabapple tree aren’t so sweet. The branches were way too dense to climb, so useless there. I’m sure my parents loved the spring flowers and the handsome summer greenery, but we kids hated it with a passion. By mid-summer and all through the fall, the tree would swarm with bees. Trying to cut the lawn under it was a tense lesson in chance. Maybe you’d get stung, maybe not.

    I’m most of the way through From Fertile Ground. I have to say it’s magnificent. I fully appreciate the hours, days and weeks you spent pairing your mother & grandfather writing with your own vignettes. As any good memoir does, it’s made me think a lot about myself and I’m discovering some interesting things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so touched by your comment, Jeff. Yes, there were moments writing and assembling From Fertile Ground that left me exhilarated and exhausted. I had hoped writing it would help others navigate through grief.

      On the crab apple tree, the downside were all the stains it left on our driveway. My parents hated it because we kids would have crab apple fights. Still, it felt like a safe space for me when I could escape into the tree.


      1. One of the things that jumped out so clearly to me is the depth of your relationships outside your immediate family. The amount you care about others is striking (at least to me). I used to be like this but I’m not now. It’s making me wonder how much is disfunction and how much is medication. I mentioned this to Susan this morning and we’re going to set aside time to explore it this weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m glad you are looking at this, Jeff. I think we all go through ebbs and flows concerning how much energy we put into relationships. After my heart attack, I retrenched and felt reticent to extend myself. I’ve been more free-wheeling again in the past year or so … in spite of the pandemic. I also know that writing is a very solitary process. I know how important it is to you and you should continue it, but it’s good that you are more conscious of examining your relationships now, especially as your children move on in their lives. I remember how challenging that was for me. Take care, my friend!


  3. Wow, congratulations, Mark on publishing yet another book! That’s so inspiring and very impressive. I love your style and how your sentences can tell a story with an effortless ease. It’s not easy to have the discipline to sit down day after day and put that work in. Is not easy to stare at a blank page and turn it into a story that strangers want to spend many hours reading. I applaud to your efforts and achievements! Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Aiva! I feel fortunate to have discovered my literary stride later in life. Writing has become my passion since leaving my corporate job in 2014. That blank page can be daunting, but I’ve learned there is so much in the world to write about. Much of it happens under the radar. I am grateful to have friends like you far and near, who add depth and meaning to my life. Stay well!

      Liked by 1 person

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