April 27, 2015

Recalling the banana tree in Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2013

While taking my exercise walk the other day, I passed by a house with a second-floor sunroom built square into the house’s southwest-facing corner. Although it is now winter, plants still thrive, of course, in glassed enclosures exposed to a southern sun.
When I was growing up, there was a similarly southern-facing tropical plant in Salisbury, but it was much too large to fit into a sunroom. Home gardeners will sometimes cultivate tropical plants such as the “Bird of Paradise” for an unusual addition. This tall, fronded tropical plant, just a bit north of the corner of South Main and East Bank Streets was much bigger than that! It sometimes had a purple inflorescence hanging on a long stalk from which the  yellow fruit particular to it would later be suspended in bunches. In short (although I took a few sentences to arrive), it was a banana tree in a large hand-crafted container of soil, since the ground there was paved. I remember seeing it in the late 1950s into the 1960s.
In geography, there is the Tropic of Cancer (also a 1970 movie), as well as the Tropic of Capricorn, but due to the novelty of that banana tree’s location, to me, Salisbury had its own “Tropic of South Main and East Bank Streets”.
Over time, being preoccupied with other things and moving away, I lost track of that particular non-native plant of a more southern clime. To the best of my memory, I want to think that the banana tree belonged to the gentleman who ran the service station at that corner. I assumed then, and still do, that the plant was his and that he tended it, but can’t be definitely sure at this late date. Prior to coming back for the East Rowan Class of ’69 reunion, among other Salisbury Google Maps “Googlings,” I Googled the corner of South Main and East Bank Streets, then “accompanied” the little yellow, Google stick-figure street-view man to that spot, learning that both the service station and the banana tree were no longer there.
I wondered what had happened to the tree, but Google Maps is silent on such questions, only concerning itself with how the view looked from its camera’s 360-degree field of view on the particular moment when its “rolling tripod” came through Salisbury.
One possibility is that being tropical, the long-standing effects of the cooler, temperate North Carolina Piedmont could have caused the banana tree to develop a degree of “longing” for its native region, a melancholia gradually increasing over time into a dangerous, non-reversible, “deathly” nostalgia. (Some people pine away unto death, so why not also a plant?)
Another logical conjecture is that the owner could have passed away and the tree’s subsequent owner may not have valued its continued existence. A less “grave” explanation regarding the tree (and owner) might be that the service station ceased in profitability, leading only to death of an economic sort and transportation of the great plant by the former station owner to his home (if, as I said before, that service station owner was in fact, the plant’s keeper). These possibilities represent some of the banana tree’s conceivable paths through time after it was last seen by me. I’m sure there are some people in Salisbury who could give me a chronological history of what has transpired at that spot since then, but I have my doubts about really wanting to know.
For now, I am content for the eventual fate of the banana tree to remain a puzzle to me, since health publications targeting seniors tell us that the working of puzzles (in this case, a puzzle’s contemplation) helps to keep older brains in better condition. Thinking about the banana tree now, in January, seems (to me) to make the barren winter trees on my street look a little warmer, but not enough to bring on budding, since after all, that few degrees of extra warmth is only an impression in my mind. I started out with a memory, and now I have a puzzle to ponder which provides me some “cerebral cardio,” so if you do know what became of the banana plant, please keep it to yourself, and don’t tell me.
The “out-of-place” banana tree was just one of those colorful pieces making up the kaleidoscope that Salisbury was then and continues to be. In those days, on South Main, not very far from the Square, could be found tucked away a narrow (in physical width only) little store with newspapers, tobacco products, magazines, soft drinks, sandwiches, beer, and wine (the wine of which my Uncle Lamont Hamlet partook one glass there per day, remarking: “It was the doctor’s orders,” adding, “The doctor knows what an old man needs!”). That place was Hyman’s Smoke Shop, and stopping in a few times when I was a teenager, I felt as if I were in one of those little “cubbyhole” places just off the streets of New York City. Nassar’s Fruit Stand, on East Innes, resembled something of the open-air market of Cairo (except due to its being in the temperate Piedmont of North Carolina, was indoors).
Recently viewing the online Salisbury Post, I saw the picture of the great “hole” where the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Central Office will be built. Seeing “South Main” mentioned in the article, I looked a little closer in that picture to see what lay on the outskirts of the great cavity, happily noting that the digging was not on the site of my mother’s former workplace, W.T. Grants. The new construction, being a block south of where the banana tree once stood, also means that the banana tree’s old site is still safe (but of course, the Google “views” have a little bit of age on them).
I can, without any difficulty here in Danville, Virginia, picture the old banana tree in my Salisbury memories. Whenever I may actually stand in that exact place again, my on-site, mental “conjuring” of the tree will be greatly helped if the space once occupied by its tall fronds remains “unfettered” by masonry, and the paved ground on which it once sat can still be stood upon.