The week our first grandchild was born happened to be Earth Week. When my husband and I ordered hamburgers at a McDonald’s near the hospital we received along with our meal a tiny pine tree planted in a Styrofoam cup. We laughed about the incongruity of an Earth Day gift in a Styrofoam cup. But we liked the little tree and, even though we had lots of huge pines already, we set out to plant that one. We planted it where it would receive plenty of sunshine and grow to a lofty height. This tree, we told each other, would always be our granddaughter Amanda’s age. It was quite naturally dubbed “Amanda’s Tree.” In the picture we took of her with her tree when they were a year old she’s smiling big and the tree only reached to her little feet dangling from the stroller. Now, at twenty-five, our girl turned woman has to look high in the sky to see the top of her tree.
When our next grandchild was born someone was giving away maple trees in cups. We planted Charles Douglas’s little tree near a couple other maples hoping for bright colors in the fall. “This tree will never be as tall as Amanda’s pine,” I worried. But Charles, my husband, reasoned that wasn’t the point. We were planting a nice tree to honor the birth of Charles Douglas Reeves. Later, when he was old enough to question why his tree wasn’t as big as Amanda’s, I assured him his would be much brighter.
Our third grandchild was born on the first of January, not in March like the first two. No one was passing out trees in Birmingham. But when we got home to our place in Cairo, Georgia, we looked around and decided this grandson, William Stacey Graham, Jr., should have a tree also. It just so happened that not far from one of our huge pines was a brand new long leaf seedling. Charles staked it for protection and that became William’s tree. As you can imagine, for two or three years he was totally unimpressed by that little tree. As he grew in wisdom and stature, however, he was glad to own a tree as his cousins did.
And then along came Thomas Hamilton Graham, born in February. No trees were being given. But Charles and I had begun to crave a ghinko tree. We’d enjoyed their fall color when we lived in Athens and then had been intrigued by the sprawling ghinko at our church in Cairo where it hugs up under a magnificent sweetgum. We purchased a ghinko tree that spring and planted it by the driveway where a palm tree had died leaving a nice rich spot. Thomas’s tree grew year by year more slowly than the other trees but with a certain exotic atmosphere true to its Chinese heritage, its fan-shaped leaves turning gold in the fall.
By the time Martha Elizabeth Graham was born in March, 2009, we had become enthusiasts of the majestic and romantic magnolia trees. Charles planted one for “Mattie” across the driveway from Thomas’s ghinko tree. I thought about the women in the movie “Steel Magnolias” and felt sure this little girl who, even at her difficult birth, was called by her father “a fighter,” would become both gentle and strong like them. Our first picture of Mattie with her tree shows her instant curiosity over those shiny leaves.
Growing a tree for each of our five grandchildren has not been without some disappoint-ments. Thomas’s ghinko tree lost its whole top one year in a storm but it has recovered and looks beautiful now. Charles Douglas’s maple contracted some kind of moldy disease and died. Charles D took it in stride. We planted him another tree but it died too. By then Charles D himself was about grown and able to laugh about losing two trees. “Don’t plant another one,” he said. “Look at all these trees we have to mow around already.”
And now we’re selling our place, our beloved “Lane of Palms.” What will happen to all the grandchildren trees? I comfort myself in thinking some other children will enjoy playing around those trees. But I know that is just a leafy dream. We can look at our pictures from “tree photo ops” over the years and reminisce. But I hope most of all that our grandchildren will always love and respect trees and find joy in their beauty.
As Joyce Kilmer wrote in his poem titled “Trees,” “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”
If you’ve planted trees for your grandchildren, or made some other kind of collection, given books to the library in their honor, or made a tradition of some kind with them, please share your comments below.