And the Tree Was Happy
I consider myself a moderate in most things, more things than anyone cares to know. I am moderately musical, moderately creative, moderately introverted, moderately liberal, moderately feminist, and moderately lazy. One of the only convictions I have is that nothing I own is worth my life. So, should a situation arise where there is a fire in my home, the first thing I would do is get my family and myself to safety. If I had time to rescue my cat, my tablet computer, my parents' wills, my laptop, my rat, my flute, my clarinet, my mother's jewelry, my computer's hard-drive, and anything of real monetary or sentimental value, then the fire must not be all-consuming and I would not have to perform this so-called 'rescue.' However, if I did proceed to choose an item I could order on for ten dollars, you could bet your buttons that it would not be a tawdry Harlequin teenage romance. I would choose The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, arguably the most influential book of my childhood.
My childhood was one to be envious of; it was stock full of dancing, singing, twirling, joking, and laughing, often ending in a childish disaster. One pervasive aspect of that experience was the warmth of the orange tree growing in my backyard. My sister and I, along with our fellow neighborhood kids Sam and Parke, would play-act as outdoorsmen with the tree being our 'base camp' and we would collect fallen oranges and use a juicer to extract the juice. We would use the leaves, alongside pilfered bottle caps, as currency in our market where we sold dye from the bougainvillea flowers that dot the chain-link fence separating the yard from the foreign lands of the neighbors and every night, exhausted from the day's 'efforts', my sister and I would beg our mom for a story. On the days where she did not just make up a random, nonsensical story for us on the spot, she would read from our Dr. Seuss books and, of course, The Giving Tree, a story about a tree and her love for a little boy as he grew to be an old man. As he aged, the boy forgot about the tree, but the tree was always there for him upon his return and the tree ended up giving her apples, branches, and trunk to him to make him happy.
After Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, the orange tree uprooted and died. The Waste Management Authority had the task of dragging it out of the backyard. Needless to say, Sam, Parke, my sister, and I were all quite devastated. The following night we held a funeral ritual, and by the end of the year we had a new designated market spot and drank store-bought orange juice.
A few years later, Sam entered Middle School, and she was too busy to join us outside. The next year, my sister followed suit, and the next year, Parke left as well. So, like the Giving Tree at the end of the story, I was left all alone in the fading glory of childhood.
Now, as a teenage girl in high school, if someone were to pose the question to me, "What is your favorite book?" I would not provide The Giving Tree as an answer, for it is not my favorite book. The Giving Tree represents the part of me that I have lost with age, the part of me that still longs to be outside swinging in the branches and collecting the oranges and climbing its trunk and pretending to hold a market and playing hide-and-go-seek and sleeping in its shade. To me, The Giving Tree is not a book that is read then placed on a dusty shelf to be picked up later when I feel nostalgic and sentimental like some old fool. It reminds me of where I came from, my origins, and where I must go in the future. For even when I go off to college and get a job and retire, I know there will always be a giving tree here at home for me to sit and rest upon when all is said and done with my life.