A death in the family can be particularly difficult for young minds to understand. This story might help to explain what has happened.
Grandpa’s Old Oak Tree
The Brightman family decided to make a special trip to visit the grandparents on their farm. Jimmy knew something was different when most of the way there, no one said very much. After they arrived, the children were able to spend time with their grandfather. But even they noticed how he tired easily, needed lots of naps, and wasn’t as much fun as he used to be.
Then one day, their grandfather took them out to sit under his favorite oak tree. To the children, it looked like his tree might reach all the way to the sky. It hurt the back of Jimmy’s neck, just looking up at it. Even if he and Sarah held hands and tried to reach around the massive trunk, their arms still wouldn’t be long enough.
Grandpa showed them where their own parents had carved their initials up in the tree. Above those were the grandparents’ initials. Then even higher up, Jimmy saw something. “Hey, who carved that heart?”
His grandpa chuckled. “Those were your great grandparents. The ones before your grandmother and me.”
Sarah kept looking up for a moment. “Wow, they sure must have been good climbers.”
Her grandfather laughed. “No, sweetie, when they carved their initials in that big heart, they were standing on the ground.”
She wrinkled up her nose. “How tall were they?”
“The tree grew up since then,” her brother answered.
“That’s right,” their grandfather said. Life goes on and this old tree kept growing right along with it.” They sat quietly for the next few minutes. Then he continued. “We’ve had some wonderful picnics under this old tree. I used to climb its mighty branches when I was only a boy. Sometimes the family sat out here and sang until way past dark. Why, I think about all the creatures it’s taken care of.”
“Like what?” Jimmy asked.
“Squirrels built their nests high up in her branches, they gathered acorns for the winter when they fell in the fall, and all kinds of birds have raised their young in this tree. Your own father climbed it when he was about your age, Jimmy. And it’s given us a nice place in the shade so we could get out of the sun on many a hot day.”
Everyone sat quietly again for a few minutes. Then Sarah asked, “Have you always been a farmer?”
He nodded. “I have, but did you know I was also a builder?”
Jimmy and his sister shook their heads together.
“It’s true.” He turned and pointed. “I designed and built our house over there.”
“You did?” Jimmy exclaimed.
“Sure did.” He turned back to the children. “And one thing a builder knows about is wood. Now, you take this tree here. It’s getting pretty old. Soon it’ll need to be cut down, if the wind or lightning don’t do the job first.” He pointed to a place where two parts of the tree had been split. “Like up there where lightning hit it.” He took a deep breath and then looked at his grandchildren again. “When an oak tree doesn’t produce acorns anymore, or the branches aren’t strong, it could be dangerous if I left it for your grandmother to take care of after I’m...”
Jimmy was beginning to understand, and it gave him a big lump right in the middle of his throat. His sister had gone off to pick flowers nearby. He moved closer to his grandfather. “How come things have to..?”
“Well, it’s just the way life is. Sometimes we build things to remind us of people who aren’t with us anymore. It’s a way to help remember them. When one thing dies, something else takes its place.”
Grandfather pointed out toward his fields. “In the spring, my soy beans grow green and strong. Before they can be harvested, and used for food, they have to die first and dry up. But a farmer can take some of those same dry beans, plant them in the ground, and a new crop will grow up to take their place. Or when a car gets old and rusted, it’s taken to the junk yard, shredded, and a new car can be built from what’s left.”
Jimmy thought for a moment. “I think I understand.”
“It’s the same for families. When the older ones are gone, new ones, like you and your sister, take their places. One day I took my father’s place.”
Jimmy squinted and asked, “You had a father?”
The old man chuckled. “He was your great grandfather. Remember the heart?”
Jimmy looked up there again. “Now I get it.”
Just then Sarah came back with a bouquet of flowers. “What about the heart?”
He smiled. “There were your great grandparents, then your grandmother and me. Next came your parents, and now we have the two of you.” He took a heavy breath. “One day I’ll be gone.” He rubbed his knees. “Your grandpa’s getting a little worn out. Soon it will be time for me to go away.”
Sarah handed the flowers to her grandfather and then hugged around his neck. “But I don’t want you to go away, Boompa.”
Not long after their visit, the family traveled to the farm again for their grandfather’s funeral. Everyone cried and Jimmy felt very sad.
After they’d been back home for a few weeks, something exciting happened. When Jimmy and Sarah played on the slide in their swing set, a large truck roared to a stop in front of their house. When it stopped, the brakes squeaked. On the back of the truck, Jimmy noticed stacks of boards piled high. As the men unloaded the boards, the children’s father came home early from work.
They ran to him. “What’s happening, Dad?” Sarah asked.
He smiled. “It’s a big surprise.”
“You knew about this?” Jimmy asked.
Their father nodded. “I helped plan it all. This is something your grandfather wanted very much to do for you.”
Jimmy looked down. “But he’s gone now.”
“I mean he wanted it for you and Sarah.”
“Well what is it?” she asked.
He explained to them how their grandfather had arranged for his favorite tree to be cut down, made into boards, and shipped to them. He even drew up the plans for a great tree house.”
“Did you know he was a builder?” Sarah asked.
Her father smiled. “I sure did.”
After a lot of cutting with loud saws, and pounding of hammers, their tree house rested proudly in the branches of their tree. Jimmy and Sarah’s father brought out a note that their grandfather had given him to read at this moment.
“Today you have a new tree house, built from the wood of my favorite oak tree. Each time you enjoy playing in it, I hope it will help you to think of me. Now the memory of your grandfather, and that great, old tree, can live on as something new.”
As the children’s mother stood with them, their father reached down and picked up one more board. He took a power screwdriver and headed up the ladder where he set the board in place and fastened it to the front of that beautiful tree house. When he’d finished, the children could clearly see that on the new board were the same carved heart, and initials of their great grandparents. And the old piece of wood sparkled with a shiny, new finish.
Later the children sat up inside their beautiful tree house. Jimmy was the first to speak.
“Mom said Grandpa went to a better place.”
Sarah frowned. “A better place?”
Her brother nodded. “Uh huh.”
“I’m not exactly sure, but I remember he told me that one day we’d see him again up there.”
Sarah sniffed back her tears and looked up. “I sure miss Boompa.”
“Me, too,” Jimmy told her.
After they climbed down the ladder, Jimmy looked up at the top of the tree house where those initials had been carved into the rugged bark from the old tree. A small tear formed, rolled to the corner of his eye and down his cheek, even as a smile came to his face.
Winter seemed especially cold to Jimmy that year. He often found himself sitting at his bedroom window, staring out at the tree house, and remembering his grandfather. That made him smile every time.
If you enjoyed this story, come back from time to time and I’ll post others. Until then, you can find several of my adventure and mystery books here https://www.amazon.com/s?k=max+elliot+anderson&ref=nb_sb_noss_1
Thanks for stopping by,
Max Elliot Anderson