Arkansas Highway 83 is your garden-variety rural Delta road, snaking its way through flat farmland. What you view is predictable until you round a curve and see this bedraggled cedar tree standing tall against the elements. When I first saw it, I thought to myself, there has to be a story here. I was never more right.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Pine Buff, Arkansas
This story first ran on December 21, 2008. When it came time in 2009 to post a Christmas article, I could not find a subject which eclipsed The Cross Tree. So we ran it again. In December 2010, repeat if necessary. After three years, it appeared that the ratchet was engaged, so every December on the weekend before Christmas, we run the story again. Every time we run this story, it seems to resonate with folks who have read it before and the ones who are seeing it for the first time.
A Stubborn Old Tree
The Cross Tree at a slightly different angle. In this neck of the woods, the Delta is a flat as pool table as far as the eye can see, a perfect setting for a stubborn cedar tree.
The Mysterious Death
And Noble Memorial of Frank Cross
Chuck Taylor is a congenial man. Otherwise this story would not be.
The ancient cedar tree stands alone at the edge of a huge field on a farm west of Dumas, Arkansas, on state highway 83. One simply cannot miss it. If you know anything about farms in this neck of the woods, you know with certainty that if a tree is left standing in what would otherwise be a field with the approximate terrain characteristics of a pool table, there has to be a reason.
Back to Chuck. His establishment, "Taylor’s," was the first sign of life I detected after shooting the tree. A sign on his business exterior read “Since 1954,” so I figured someone in the establishment probably knew the story about the tree.
“Yeah-buddy,” I said to myself as I headed to the door. Yes, it was Sunday afternoon, but there were plenty of cars around and I could see lights inside. I was going to sop up some information. Oops! The doorknob did not budge. I looked inside and saw a number of people seated around a long table. They glanced in my direction as I turned back to the truck, muttering under my breath. Before I got to the truck, I did a 180, went back to the door, knocked, and asked if someone could answer a question.
Have a Seat. I've a Story to Tell.
Behold, a man got up and headed to the door. At this point, I questioned the wisdom of the door knock. Before I could ponder the question deeply, the door cracked open and there was a smiling Chuck Taylor. I told him what I was doing and what I was after. To my surprise and delight, Chuck invited me in, despite the fact that I had just interrupted their store Christmas party.
Turns out, I had landed smack-dab in the middle of the best source of information about the ancient cedar. “That tree is on the old Cross Place,” Chuck said. “It’s an old family home site.” The tree was left as a memorial to Frank Cross, the last resident of the Cross domicile.
The Cross home, according to Chuck’s mother, was a late 1800s or early 1900s model. “It was one of those houses with a breezeway between the sections.”
After his father died, Frank Cross moved into the house with his mother. Several years later, she died and Frank became the sole resident of the structure. Chuck Taylor spoke highly of Frank Cross. “He was, well, eccentric, I would say. He was articulate, intelligent, and well liked.”
When the years began to creep up on Frank, he became bedridden and required daily attention. Chuck’s father, Charles Taylor, joined Frank's brother Tom Cross and his wife Maggie as caregivers. “He (Charles) went to take care of Frank every day, it was a part of his routine,” Chuck said.
By this time, the house was deteriorating seriously. The room where Frank was bedridden was the only livable room in the house, but with the care of friends and family, Frank was comfortable.
The Dastardly Deed Is Done.
That all came to an untimely end sometime in the mid-1980s. A still unknown miscreant shot and killed Frank in his bed. After the murderer did his gruesome deed, he covered Frank’s body with a coat and proceeded to ransack the place. Who he (or she) was, what they were looking for, and why the deed was done is still a mystery.
Not long afterwards, the family had the house demolished, but left the tree as a memorial to Frank Cross. The tree shows a few bruises and scrapes, but is doing well. We can probably presume that it has endured the most savage treatment Mother Nature can dish out for a hundred years or so and is still going strong. Frank, I believe would be proud.
A Noble Tree, Tough and Proud
If this tree was a horse you would probably say that it has been “rode hard and put up wet” on more than one occasion. Despite peeling bark and limbs torn asunder, the tree continues to serve as a noble memorial to one of God’s children who met an untimely end.
In a few days, millions of inhabitants of this planet, including yours truly, will celebrate Christmas — and not the infernal thing some call the “holidays.” This sacred observance of Christmas gives us pause to refresh our knowledge that there is good — and that there is evil. For a few minutes today, I was in the presence of good, manifested by a well-worn cedar tree. The tree told me that in our tale of the Cross tree, the good people outnumber the evil ones. That gives us hope. Merry Christmas.
Nikon D300 Hand held / AFS Nikkor 18-70 f3.5-4.5G ED / post processed with Photoshop CS3 Extended and Genuine Fractals Print Pro originally. Redone with Photoshop CC.