Sumac

Several sorts of
Shrub or tree
Of the genus Rhooz,
Its autumn leaves,
So crimson,
Enchant the
Woodland views.
My Father’s yard
Had sumac trees
Sixty years ago;
In all my childhood
Memories,
The flaming
Sumac glow.
But one day
Father stunned me
With a lexical surprise.
“You must say
SHOO-mac, son,” he said,
“The spelling rule applies.”
I’d always called it
Soo-mac, and all
My friends had too,
And though my dad
Was never wrong,
This seemed
Somehow askew.
I knew he was a
Wordsmith and
Loved our
English tongue.
But SHOO-mac?
SHOO-mac!
It hurt the ear;
There must be
Something wrong.
“‘Spelling rule,’
What spelling rule?”
I challenged him
At last,
And knew at once
I’d broken faith
And questioned him
Too fast.
For he turned
His grey eye on me
With that steady
Gaze he had,
And I felt the sudden
Shame that comes
From challenging
Your Dad.
Then speaking slowly
Like a lord,
“The rule is this,” he said.
“S must be sounded
As S-H
When followed by a U,
As in SURELY SUGAR, son.
The rule is fast and true.”
SURELY SUGAR!
He had me,
His examples ironclad;
And here a silly
Teenager
Had dared
To test his Dad.
But he was a
Merry prankster,
And if I’d had a clue,
I’d have known
When Father said a thing,
He might be
Testing YOU...
And in the entire
English tongue of
S-U pronounced as SHOO,
He’d done his
Homework carefully
And found the ONLY TWO.
I could have countered, I
Suppose, with
Summer,
Surf, and
Sun,
But “SURELY SUGAR”
Had me by
The brain,
The Dad,
The tongue.
So...
I said “SHOO-mac” then
For years
And earned the ridicule
Of peers,
Never noting
Submarine,
Superman,
Surmise,
Sullen, suet, such
    and such...
Surreal, supreme,
Surprise.
But Father hadn’t
Told a lie.
He never would,
Of course.
SHOO-mac is acceptable;
Go check your
Webster source.
So I never doubted
Dad again,
And that has
Served me well.
For he taught me
How to hunt, and fish,
Play chess, and scout,
And ski,
And how to read
And love good writing,
Both prose and poetry,
How to drive,
And how to garden and
Prepare the soil for seed,
And how to love my
Bratty sister
And care for those in need.
He’s been gone now
Sixteen years;
He passed at 92.
The wise
Grey eyes
That followed me
And mentored me
Still do.
A sumac tree
Burns brightest
Just before the snow;
It pleases me
In memory
To see our Father so.
He was surely sugar,
And surely sugar
He will be,
While autumn
Blazes crimson
In my sumac,
Shoomac tree.