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Paperback Writer

A well accomplished writer, P.S. had so many stories to tell, we had to give him his own space. Enjoy this new style of blog meets fiction!

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Tree of Hope

The Tree of Hope. 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, the young mind, still containing enough innocence and make-believe that is so sacred to childhoods. Our lower middle class neighborhood, Great Barr, had undergone a major boom in the mid 1960’s, resulting in scores of new homes being built. Those modern, well built houses attracted many younger couples, who were intent on starting a family, to take the financial plunge into home ownership. The end 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 me, and we shared six magical years together. (Although at the time I never quite appreciated just how magical the days were, truly, who ever does?) In that fateful year 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. I was genuinely extremely quiet and typically found with my nose buried in a book. I had learnt the fundamental art of culinary delights with the assistance of Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook. On this particular day, it was going to be a special. 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 pizazz. Trees, it was unanimously decided upon were the answer. 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, only to be interrupted by a passing squirrel, rabbit, or squawking feathered friend. It was a favorite spot of mine to hide from the reality of the world and read. The teachers decided that a drawing would be the only fair way to decide that who would plant the tress , one girl and one boy from each classroom. 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. The 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 also remember the teacher reaching into the hat-girls first. “Julie Whitehouse,” Mr. Powell announced. A few mumbled congratulations. “And now for the boy’s name…” With that he winked at me, he actually winked. As 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 paused, relishing in the tension he was creating. I felt myself turn pale as my young heart thumped. “Paul Gifford.” 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. “Thank you.” We then neatly got into two lines at the door of the class. At the head of the girl’s line stood Julie, the most beautiful girl in the class. And there was bespectacled goofy me beaming at the front of the boys. I was glowing with pride. This shy, insecure eleven year old boy was suddenly six-feet tall, full of confidence. 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 pre- dug in the appropriate place. My usual insecure manifested once more. 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 peek 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. ‘Mark Gibbons.’ ***** 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 survive. ***** 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 wife 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 and soak in the over-sized tub. 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 yesterday’s 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 back in 1976.Their eyes glazed over as I spoke. “Wow you are old,” a few of them mused. It turned out that not only did those kids attend Whitecrest, so did many of their parents, acorns typically falling very close to the tree in England. We continued our walk, after Jonathan shook a dozen new friend’s 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 sixty 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 looked up at my face, and saw 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,a very special place indeed."

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