The boy wraps his leg around the trunk of the tree and reaches out as far as he can reach toward his prize dangling, oh so precariously, from the end of a nearby branch.
His small fingers twist and contort as they stretch to the limit toward his precious prize. The tips of his fingers fan at the small brown spiny husk that hangs just out of reach.
He can see the reflection of the setting sun shining off the rich dark mahogany shell of the nut peeking out through the peeling husk. Every muscle in his body grows rigid as he stretches just a little further. He loosens his grip on the tree to give him just that extra inch of reach.
As if aided by some unknown force, the object of his desire swings toward his hand and he quickly pinches it between his finger and thumb. Oh, the exaltation that courses through his veins as the husk breaks free from the branch!
The boy’s excitement is brief as during his final attempt to grab the husk, he did not feel that his foot begins to slide, causing his grip on the tree to loosen. Just as the nut broke free from its branch so did his grip and they both fall from the tree to the ground landing with a hard thud.
The boy’s grandmother sits on the porch peeling apples for her famous homemade applesauce when out of the corner of her eye sees the boy fall to the ground and lay motionless beneath the tree.
She jumps from the swing and is nearly to the boy before the bowl of apples that sat on her lap hits the ground. She scoops the boy up into her arms and checks him for injury.
“Are you alright my dear child, are you hurt?” she asks calmly while the panic burns brightly in her eyes.
“Look what I got, Memaw! Have you ever seen a buckeye so big and beautiful?”, the boy shouts at her — ignoring her question as his fingers quickly shuck the husk revealing the large mahogany-colored buckeye that was hidden beneath.
The grandmother laughs as she wipes the dirt, filth and bits of shredded leaves from his face with the tail of her apron. She reaches over and slides the boy onto her lap as they both sit on the ground beneath the old buckeye tree.
She leans down and puts her cheek against the boy’s cheek, and they both stare down at the buckeye perched between his fingers and glistening in the late afternoon light.
“That’s mighty impressive, but when I look at that I don’t see a buckeye. I see so much more than that nut,” she says with an air of mystery that causes the boy to look at her with inquisitive eyes.
“I don’t understand Memaw, what do you see? It’s just a buckeye …”
“Oh no, look closely at it; it is so much more. The true beauty of that little buckeye lies deep in the soul. When I look at that buckeye I see love, laughter, warmth, family and all the precious memories.
“When I look at this buckeye, I can see my father standing here in the yard of your grandpa and my new home, with a small tree seedling in his hand. He told me that he drove down to Gore and dug up this small buckeye tree from behind the dilapidated ruins of our old coal mine company house where I grew up. He said the tree is from a buckeye which came from the old tree that sat in our backyard, so whenever I see this tree growing in the yard I would remember home.
“And when I look at that buckeye in your hand, I see my father giving his great-grandson the same gift he gave me as a little girl. While you never knew him or got a chance to meet him, this buckeye tree bonds you together with him and with all of our family, heritage, and the hills from where we came.”
The little boy saw a small tear fall down his grandmother’s cheek and he looked down again at the buckeye and thought of what an amazing thing that this buckeye turned out to be.
Unbeknownst to the boy that day, he did recognize how powerful his grandmother’s words would be. The boy did not understand the power of time, and within 20 years his grandmother would be gone, his grandparents’ house sold, and the old buckeye tree cut down by the new owners.
However, the boy was given such an amazing gift by his grandmother, for every time he sees a buckeye or holds one in his hand, he still hears her stories. He not only hears her words but sees her memories.
When he sees a buckeye, he feels the bond of her love extend from the heavens and hold him and squeeze him tight assuring him everything is alright. He can feel from that buckeye the connection to his great-grandfather and all the family from the old hills.
As an adult, the boy will eventually buy a home and get married. He will return to the old hills of home from where his grandmother came from and gather small buckeye seedlings and plant them in his yard, so he can continue the tradition and not only pass along the old stories but make new stories.
Then, as the trees grow and new generations come they too can learn of the love, warmth and heritage of the generations that came before them.
Every year, the soil and water conservation districts across Ohio hold tree sales, and for the past several years Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District has held a Native Tree and Shrub Sale that sells larger plants in a three-gallon pot. It has been a rewarding experience to see so many unique trees go off to new homes and hopefully start new family memories.
On Oct. 9, 1822, Thomas Jefferson received seeds from Constantine Samuel Rafinesque and wrote thanking his longtime friend “too old to plant trees for my own gratification, I shall do it for my posterity.”
Perhaps this year, we should follow in the footsteps of my great-grandfather Frank Starr and Thomas Jefferson and purchase some native trees from your local soil and water office and plant a memory that will improve the ecosystem and transcend generations.
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