It should have been an easy tree planting. All I had to do was explain to a class of third graders how to plant a tree and watch them plant it.
The teacher met me at the door and reminded me I was to explain how to plant the tree but the children were to do all the planting. I spent the next twenty minutes explaining to the kids how to properly plant a tree. It was almost spooky. They were all so quiet and attentive. The only time they talked was to ask questions.
Stepping outside my heart sank. There is was – the ugliest Newport plum tree I had seen in my life! The form was terrible. There were dead and broken branches all along one side. To make matters worse, the hole was dug in an area where hand mowing was needed. In a few years, if the tree lived that long, whoever was mowing the grass would certainly be cussing the fruit. ‘Technically’ it was going to be a bad planting: a poor tree, a poor site, a poor location.
Soon two of the boys were manhandling the basket. Fearing they would further damage the root ball I started to step in. The teacher grabbed my arm. She was smiling but in that teacher tone she reminded me, “The children need to plant this tree.”
Soon the tree was in the hole. A line formed and one by one the students took the shovel and threw in a little dirt. Then each one waited patiently to make a portion of the water berm. The line then formed again and one by one they took the hose and watered the tree for a brief second.
‘Technically’ it was planted too deep. ‘Technically’ the water berm was poorly constructed. ‘Technically’ it was only surface watered.
A little girl from the class slowly walked to the tree and placed a hand on the stem. She paused for a moment and smiled at the class. “We’re planting this tree for Jimmy,” she started. “We’re planting a Newport plum tree because Jimmy likes plums. Jimmy couldn’t be here today because he had to go back to the hospital. . .” and with that she started to cry.
As the entire class crowded in the comfort the little girl, the teacher once again grabbed my arm. She explained to me that Jimmy was terminally ill and the prognosis was not good. The kids wanted to plant a tree for Jimmy. They raised all the money needed to buy it. Suddenly all the ‘technical’ problems were no longer that important.
Jimmy’s tree will never be the greatest specimen in the community. It will probably struggle for years just to survive. In a few years the grounds keeper will no doubt curse the people who planted it. In years to come other third grade classes will laugh at the scrawny little tree. But, for the next few years that tree will be a symbol of love, hope, and compassion. That’s not a bad legacy for a tree, or for that matter, us.