It was a clear fall morning and dad and I were sitting on the porch enjoying the sun in his and mom’s rocking chairs. We had the football games to look forward to and other than that, nothing going on. I had no idea what happened next would mean so much over the next few years. She was walking past the front porch hauling a basket full of small plants in a carrier. She looked to be about dad’s age, stooped from osteoporosis and breathing hard when dad hollered from the porch, “hey, whatcha got there?” “Oh, nothing much, just a few popcorn trees” she replied. “Well, lemme take a look, we been needin some trees on this lot.” And with that he gingerly got up and walked to the street. Dad was known for saying the first thing that came into his head, like it or not and so out came, “Shoot, that ain’t nothing but a weed.” “Nope, it’s a popcorn tree” she said. Put one in the ground and see what happens.” Dad was also known for his frugality so his next question came easy. “How much?” When he heard, “No charge” he was sold and took one of the small “weeds” back to the porch. He and mom planted it later that day. Dad could be a stubborn kind of fellow and for the next ten years or so he called these plants, there were now four, everything from roots to vines but never trees. They stand about thirty feet tall now and I never heard him call them a tree but each year, about this time, the yard is full of beautiful shade, and these little white balls that cover the ground to remind mom of the love of her life, dad. He left us about this time last year.
Several years ago I brought one of the roots of those trees back and planted it in my front yard. It’s about twenty feet now and as it continues to grow, it reminds me that things are not always as they appear, nor are we. It stands as a reminder that we can all look like weeds at some point but when placed in the right soil, grow and flourish. Dad took a chance that day, took that elderly, stooped over woman at her word, “it’s a popcorn tree” and he planted. He watered, watched and nourished that “weed” out of curiosity really, just to see what would happen. One thing he didn’t do was give up. Now the fact that he never really called them trees is moot. Like it or not, the man spent many an afternoon in the shade of something growing from the ground. I know we sometimes look at our children and think, “Lord have mercy, will this thing ever become a tree?” But one has to remember, some plants need more than others, more food, sun, water. That first popcorn tree would have died in the ground had dad not provided for its needs. Our children are no different and there is no statute of limitations on love. When I read about the tragedies involving the children of Macon and other areas, I think about the popcorn tree. Someone saw a weed too soon and simply gave up or were afraid to give it the water and food it may have needed to survive. Another way of thinking about it is our children may or may not provide us with “shade” as we get older. Some may leave us in the desert of despair and rightfully so, for we failed to help them become the shade trees of our future.