“On warm days Granny and I would walk through that grove, and she would point out the fledgling trees that sprung from the shallow but widely spread roots of the older trees. Not only were they temporary, she’d tell me, they were prolific and rapid growing trees. The adult trees in the stand were children and grandchildren of earlier family members. Poplars, she told me didn’t grow from seeds, but emerged as the spawn of a mature tree’s root stock. “A lot like humankind, we grow best when we stick together and when we come into this world we bring a lot of what’s happened before with us.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal
Nancy Wingate swung the car door open, a blast of hot dry wind slapping into her as a harsh reminder of temper of August. She popped the trunk, forced a smile and a wave at the child on her steps whose eyes watched her every move. Had she walked all the way out here from town? Three miles cross country, more like five if she’d walked the roads. Surely, her folks wouldn’t let her, but then again. . .Nancy’s thoughts trailed off as she set to unloading the contents of her trunk.
Bent over, reaching for the bag of potatoes that had shifted to the very back of the enclosure, she didn’t hear the little girl approach and started when she spoke.
“I can help you with your groceries, Miss Nancy.”
“Whew! Jessie, you just about scared the life out of me. Sure you can help. Do you think you can crawl into that space and get that bag of potatoes for me? I can manage this sack and I will send Pete and DeWayne out for the rest.”
She’d barely had the words out of her mouth before the slightly built child had retrieved the potatoes and stood balancing the 10 pound bag on her hip like it was a toddler. Jessie looked so serious that Nancy almost chuckled.
“Well, let’s get these inside.”
“Pete, DeWayne, come help pack the groceries inside.” Nancy called as she pushed the kitchen door open, holding it with her hip to let Jessie in ahead of her.
The men emerged hair still damp, but dressed in clean jeans and T-shirts and carried the remaining supplies into the kitchen, disappearing promptly into the depths of the house. A television news program could be heard faintly as they settled away from the kitchen.
Nancy poured two glasses of iced tea without asking Jessie if she’d like one, told her to sit all while emptying sacks and putting away her purchases. Jessie only moved off the chair once while Nancy worked in silence. She pushed through the door, patted both dogs as she passed, retrieved the Poplar sapling and then scooted back to sit wordlessly. She seemed content to watch Nancy and sip her iced tea.
A bit odd, that little one, Nancy thought, but given the little she knew about her home situation, which was frankly mostly gossip and the tragic accident that had taken Ellie Brown from all of them. Well, truth was Nancy herself was a bit off in the wake of that loss. She turned from putting the last of the cans on the shelf, looked straight at Jessie, forced a smile and asked,
“Is that the tree, Miss Ellie gave you last Sunday? You need to be planting it soon, if you want it to live.”
Jessie lifted her chin, looking directly at Nancy with not the hint of a smile. She froze there for the moment. Nancy had the distinct impression she was studying her and weighing her words carefully. She was small for ten, but Nancy felt she was looking into old eyes, a little girl struggling with adult responsibilities and burdens. She thought back with her conversation with Ellie last Sunday and realized Ellie had seen that in Jessie as well. Ellie had seen into each of her students, but Poplar trees? Nancy wondered what on earth she had had in mind? What project could speak to these children’s needs? She knew Ellie would have shared the whole idea with her and even pulled her in as she always did, but Ellie was gone.
Without considering her actions, Nancy looked to ceiling, inwardly hoping Ellie’s spirit would speak some words of wisdom and knowledge, RIGHT NOW!
“Are you okay, Miss Nancy?”
Attention redirected, Nancy sat, looked directly at Jessie and spoke truthfully, “I was just hoping Miss Ellie would tell me what on earth she had in mind when she gave the bunch of you trees last Sunday. Frankly, I have no earthly idea so heavenly intervention may be necessary.”
Surprisingly, a smile with a hint of a giggle brightened Jessie’s face. Suddenly, she looked like a ten year old child and not a wizened old lady. Nancy smiled back with the realization that it was the first genuine smile since the accident. She sighed.
“So what did Ellie tell you about the trees?”
“That they need lots of water, that we needed to dig holes that were three times the size of the trees, that…” here Jessie faltered slightly, “that we would get together on Monday, yesterday, and plant them together, because Poplar trees needed to stay close to each other to grow and prop..popu…something…”
“That’s it, propalate!”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. What is that anyway?”
“It means to cultivate so the trees grow and spread and make more trees.”
“So where do you think Miss Ellie was going to have us plant them? How can we do that together now? Everything’s ruined! I hate Miss Ellie for dying!” Jessie paled at what she had said, then began sobbing trying to backtrack on her words through gasps, “I”, sob, “didn’t”, sob, “mean that.” choke, sob “I love Miss Ellie.”
Nancy reached over and pulled the sobbing child onto her lap, like she was a toddler not a ten year old, she rested her head on Jessie’s, letting the child’s short brown hair absorb the tears that ran unabated down her own cheeks.
“Did you know Miss Ellie and I were best friends from the 6th grade?” She felt the girl’s head shake slightly and her crying soften. “well, we were and know what? I’m pretty mad at her for dying, too.”
*Author’s Note: I am posting this story as I write it with very little editing, which I have been told is bad practice and I have no reason to doubt that. However, I write by taking an idea of a story, characters, setting and then following them along as I write. Admittedly this does not make sense to anyone but me. So disclaimer, there will be errors, they are all my fault. However, I appreciate editors so if something strikes you as wrong, let me know and I will attempt to edit and correct.