A Simple Story About Childhood by Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson
Inspired by my recent visit to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where I met some of my people – and heard this story.
It’s Just A Tree
A Story About Childhood
By Kelly Swanson
I wrote this story from my trip to Spruce Pine, North Carolina. This story is dedicated to Tom and Mellie, and the tree I got to meet that day. I hope you like it.
They say that if you walk deep into the forest to where the sun begins to prism and the wind begins to shuffle through the leaves, that if you stop, breathe in, and listen with your whole heart, the leaves will talk to you – tell their stories – and release the memories of the giggles and the squeals of the children who were raised up by its branches.
If you head out to Vance Farm Rd, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, there is an old homestead where the land and the leaves whisper the tales of my people. And if you go deep enough, to a certain spot, that most any cousin will forever remember no matter how long it has been since they left – there stands a tree. Many of course. But for today, I just speak of this one tree that I got to meet personally.
You see, long ago, back in the days when children roamed the woods endlessly without a phone or screen to light their way – when the ringing of a cowbell was enough to bring you home for dinner – there was a tree that lived on the Old Vance homestead. The kind of tree that looks like many of the others around it – but this one with a louder voice for calling children to come and climb.
When you’re eleven, there is no amount of parenting wisdom that will keep you from the magnetic pull of that tree – you climb as high as you dare to go, and sit on the long branch that extends its withered finger out like an old professor, showing you the world that is waiting out there – further than you have ever gone before. And it was worth the scraped skin payment and fear of falling and putting an eye out. Because you could see forever.
The tree showed you all that was waiting for you out there. And one by one each cousin would eventually wave good bye and run into the future, in favor of things more sensible and exciting than climbing a tree.
And so that tree has stood guard over the homestead for all these years, until one day two cousins come walking back through those same woods. Their hair now gray. Their step not as quick as it used to be back then. And the leaves began to flutter like the turning pages of their childhood scrapbook.
There’s the tree, she whispers in quiet awe. Do you remember it? He nods. Who could forget?
They both stared at it for a moment, much as you stare at something that felt so big when you were small, and now you see through a different dusty lens. It doesn’t feel so big anymore, and yet, you’re wrapped in how it felt all those years ago – as if no time has passed. As if the child and the adult were dancing together in time for just a moment – each one rubbing off just a little bit on the other.
Come on, Mellie, he said. It’s time to go. But she shook her head. Nope. Not yet. Today, Tom, we’re gonna climb that tree. And her crows feet illuminated that same determined grin she had when she was eleven.
And so they climbed. Branch by branch. As high as they could. We won’t reveal who got further. And you could hear their laughter ring through the trees for a lifetime. Embedded into the scrapbook – another memory for keeping and whispering to another ear another day.
I heard that story and stood there staring at that tree. And I imagined those two younguns now not so young – sitting on those branches where the long finger this time didn’t point out what lay ahead – but rather showed them what they had – all those years ago – that they couldn’t see then. The gift in a childhood being raised by those branches. In a world that no longer exists.
For we reach a point in life where we sit out on that branch, knowing that what lies ahead is a shorter road than the one we’ve walked. And sometimes, if we’re quiet enough – just breathe – and listen with our whole heart – we can see not what is gone – but enjoy what was – the gift in running through the leaves while the sun’s prisms wrapped us in the gift of family and the blessing of being raised by the trees.
I stood there longer than I counted, staring at that tree, that until a moment ago looked no different than the millions around it. And I heard its whisper. I breathed in its message. I heard its calling to me loudly – to take this moment to climb out on that branch and be thankful for the childhood I had.
Because to someone else, it’s just a tree.