The Tree Of
P. S. Gifford
Copyright 2004 by P. S. Gifford
I shall never forget that particular Friday afternoon
in April 1976. I was just a tender and impressionable eleven years
old that was my final year at Whitecrest primary school. It is an enchanted age being eleven, just beginning the
haphazard evolution into adulthood. Yet still containing enough innocence and make-believe that is so sacred to
Our middle class neighborhood, Great Barr, had
undergone a major boom in the mid 1960’s, resulting in scores
homes being built. Attracting many parents who were planning children to move on in. The result of all this was that in
a school of about two-hundred, a hefty sixty of us were at that same tender age as myself. We were equally divided
with two teachers- Mr. Right’s and Mr. Powel’s, which was my class.
At this point in my life, family consisted of merely
me and my father. My older siblings having left home to venture
on bravely into the maddening world and my mother having left her marriage a few years earlier. This had made me
self-reliant; I was a very capable eleven-year-old boy….
On this particular day, it was going to be a special
day. Today was the day the trees arrived. It had been decided by the
powers that be that the outside path from the curb to the actual school building needed a little pizzazz…Trees, it was
unanimously decided upon were the answer. Yes, today was the day that the trees were to arrive! Each class was going
to get two. My active imagination this concept totally engaged my young mind. I have always had a soft spot for trees,
having spent many a day in the local wood simply sitting on a grassy knoll admiring the charm of nature. It was a
favorite spot of mine to read.
The teachers decided that a drawing would be the only
fair way to decide that who would plant the tress within our
class, one girl and one boy. I remember the curious excitement I felt as I nervously wrote my name on that small square
of yellow paper, my heart was actually racing. I remember my teacher smiling at me, watching my every move; I was
definitely the most excited child in his classroom.
My classmate’s names were put into two hats. It
was ten o clock on that glorious Friday Spring morning .The sun was
starting to idly warm the green grass that surrounded the building, gradually removing the dew delicately from each
blade. I can recall with amazing clarity the birds, singing and chuckling as they gaily set about their daily tasks.
I remember the teacher reaching into the hat-girls first.
“Julie Whitehouse” Mr. Powell announced. A few mumbled congratulations.
“And now for the boys name…” With
that he winked at me, he actually winked. His hand delved into the
hat as I held
my breath. A few seconds later Mr. Powel was unfolding a yellow piece of paper….
“And the boy tree planter is…”
He pauses, relishing in the tension he was creating. I felt myself turning pale as my young heart thumped.
I felt like jumping up and cheering, running around
the classroom in a victory lap. Leaping up and down waving my
arms about with wild unleashed abandon…
But I did not, I simply said.
We then neatly got into two lines at the door of the
class. At the head of the girl’s line stood Julie, and me
the front of the boys. I was beaming with pride. This shy, insecure eleven year old boy was suddenly six-feet tall, full of
We marched in that orderly fashion, that only English
school kids can, down the hallway and out into the morning
radiance. The sun appeared to be actually smiling at me, I smiled back. It could not have been a more picturesque day, it
was simply perfect. I eagerly breathed in the morning air, my senses relishing in the fragrance.
As we arrived at the assigned place I noticed that
several classes had already completed their task. Several slender
delicate trees, about two-three tall had already been neatly planted. It was now our turn, I saw a hole had been dug in
the appropriate place. I picked up my prize terrified that the shaking tree within my grasp would belie my façade of
confidence. With my classmates examining my every move I tenderly placed it within the fertile soil. Picking up a well
worn small wooden handed shovel I slowly and meticulously returned the soil. Within a few more moments my noble
task was completed. I took a few steps back, as did my female counterpart Julie, and examined our work. Then we
simply returned back to the classroom, back to our English and math classes. Yet on that very special of days I had
accomplished something…I had planted a tree!!
It was just before four o’ clock and going home
time when I had a question for Mr. Powel. I dutifully raised my hand,
and was told to come forward to the desk. I can’t recall the mundane question that I had asked but as I stood there
chatting to my favorite teacher I could not help the compulsion to sneak a peak at the yellow piece of paper still sitting
on the desk. As I read the name I gained an insight into the teacher’s perception of me.
Over the next thirty years my life has taken me in
various directions, some wondrous and amazing, others full of
sadness .When I was seventeen my father disillusioned with the bleak unemployment that was rampant in 1970’s
Britain accepted a job in California. With reluctance of leaving my homeland we packed our belongings and said
goodbye…Goodbye to the house I was born in, the friends I had grown up with, all the things I was familiar with. I also
said goodbye to my tree. It had been five years now since I had planted it and Just as I was it was starting to flourish,
starting to make its way in the world; its limbs were strengthening and growing. It was strong, vibrant and healthy. I
wondered how many winters it was going to endure, I quietly prayed to myself that it would be strong enough to
Now I am forty years old I have never forgotten that
tree. I have often made it back to England over the years, never
failing to go back and visit my tree. I have watched it progressively grow and strengthen as the years have passed. I have
shared with it my deepest fears, explained my sadness reveled in my joys. My tree seemed to have become all wise, all
knowing, always loyal, constantly ready to lend a patient ear.
A few weeks ago… I was fortunate enough to
once again find myself back in Great Barr along with my fantastic
Sarah and my son, Jonathan who is eleven.
It was on our second night there that I told Jonathan
that we were going to go for a hearty walk down his dad’s
memory lane. My wife was tired and cared to relax. Jonathan and I slipped our jackets on and set out into the early
evening. We walked and we talked. I find it hard to comprehend that I have an eleven year old son. Wasn’t it only a few
short yesterdays ago that I was only just his age?
As we were on our amble, we were greeted enthusiastically by a group of children…
“What school do you go to?” The bravest of the bunch cried out to my son.
He was shy, but he explained that he went to school
in California. This created a buzz amongst the eleven-year-old
kids playing on the street. Within a few moments, we seemed to be surrounded by about a dozen fresh young innocent
faces-all eagerly trying to figure out whom this “New kid is”.
I explained that I had gone to Whitecrest and was
visiting the place of my birth. Sharing that I had left that school
in 1976.Their eyes glazed over as I spoke.
“Wow you are old” a few of them mused.
It turns out that not only did those kids attend
Whitecrest, so did many of their parents, acorns typically falling
close to the tree in England.
We continued our walk, after Jonathan had shook a dozen new hands.
As we jaunted down a hill, we came to a building.
“What’s this place?” Jonathan asked his young mind filled with curiosity.
“This is where I attended school” I softly replied.
We walked a little quicker and in a very few moments
arrived at a remarkable sight. In front of us, towering 60 feet
high stood an extraordinary tree. It seemed strong and proud as it stood there, and I swear it seemed to acknowledge me
somehow, stretching itself proudly even taller still.
Jonathan looks up at my face, and sees a tear forming in his old man’s eye.
“It’s a beautiful tree dad…Is it special to you…?”
As the tear started to slowly creep down my cheek I replied.
“Yes son, it is very special to me indeed...”
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P. S. Gifford's Story List and Biography