A Grand Old Tree

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Over twenty years ago, the small tree was the first thing we planted in our new front yard. Barely as tall as The Wife, the tree stood alone on a hill near the front bedroom window — a bedroom, we hoped, would hold the laughter of little children someday.

Over the years, we tended to the tree, making sure it was watered and fertilized and the dead limbs were trimmed away. We gave the tree all it needed in order to grow up big, straight, and strong, but one never knows.

A forest is full of all types of trees: some mighty and tall, towering over others, and some bent, frail and small. We hoped, one day, the upper branches of this tree would provide much needed shade for the front of our house and the lower branches a sturdy hand and footholds for our little climbers.

The tree grew straight and strong, but our little climbers never arrived. Not knowing really what to do with the room, it stayed empty and cold with its door closed. Eventually, the door on having children of our own also slowly closed.

Little did we know that the laughter and cries of babies would indeed fill our lives and the front bedroom would be shaded by branches of the towering tree. We’d have to wait twelve years for both to occur — that’s when our lives changed forever. A long-ago prayer, almost forgotten, was finally answered, but not exactly as planned. We first had to get past what seemed to be impossible.

A career-ending injury forced me to retire early from the fire department. The ensuing difficult surgery was almost more than I could bear. After a couple of weeks, The Wife had to go back to work, and I spent my days alone. The year would be filled with hours of rehab and self-pity, and nothing to do. There was no way I would be able to get through the year all alone. Fortunately, I only had to get through one month.

Pulling me out of my depression was a blue-eyed, blond-haired baby girl. A month after my operation, our first granddaughter had arrived, and the long-closed door to the front bedroom was finally opened. A crib and bassinet were moved in and an overstuffed rocker, for nightly feeding and comforting, placed in front of the double window, a window now shaded by the large tree.

The room was soon filled with cries, laughter, and a deep, heartfelt warmth that only a baby can bring. It’s truly a miracle how something so small could have such a big influence on those around her — without her even knowing. I’d still have to travel the painful and arduous journey towards recovery over the next year, but while The Wife was at work, I would no longer have to travel alone.

During long daily stroller walks at the nearby park, the wonders of the natural world filled her blue eyes as fresh air filled her lungs. The days were no longer empty.

Over the next year, she grew big and strong. Watching her enjoy life so much, I slowly started to heal, both body and mind. She doesn’t know it, but one day I will thank her for helping me through such a difficult time in my life.

A year later the front bedroom had another occupant, a red-headed baby sister. She too needed looking after and with her arrival came more diaper changes, bottles, burping, and long stroller walks in the park. Days were filled with the joy only little ones can bring. Any feelings of loneliness and depression because of what I had lost were chased far away. What I had gained was so much more.

It wasn’t long before the girls were finally able to reach the lower limbs of the tree outside their bedroom window. The tree planted so many years ago has given them enjoyment of climbing, shade on hot days, and exercise from raking its leaves and many a sword fight using its small fallen branches.

Growing so large, with the tallest branches reaching well over their bedroom roof and the lower branches scratching their windowpanes, the once little tree is now in threat of falling and must come down. The girls cried last night when they were told and immediately ran outside for one last climb and sword fight.

In the morning, the tree that has given so much to so many will give even more. It will be cut down, chipped, and repurposed. We’ll use the wood chips to cover a walking path down at the park we strolled in when they were young. With each visit, we will see our tree, remembering all the joy and comfort it has brought us.

Watching the girls chase each other up and down the pathways, cushioned by wood chips, I’ll smile — remembering how two little babies so long ago also help to repurpose an old broken-down fire fighter. And in doing so, chased all my depression away while I held them, and rocked them, in the front bedroom under the shade of a Grand Old Tree.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]