The Wishing Tree
It was a beautiful day for a funeral. A few wispy clouds floated care-free high in the sky. A breeze, just cool enough, meandered over the freshly-cut lawn. A clutch of sparrows gossiped among the leaves.
All in all, you couldn’t have ask for a better day to bury someone.
Ian checked the smile that threatened to lighten his face. He glanced furtively to the left and right to make sure no one saw. Smiling at funerals, he knew, was not proper. He lowered his head and tried to feel sad. After all, he loved his…grand aunt? Uncle-in-law? He actually wasn’t very sure about whose funeral he was at, only that Mom was crying and Dad had a face of stone and he hadn’t been allowed to talk much in the car ride over. He even doubted they would stop for burgers on the way home either. More likely, they would go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s with the rest of the family and he’d have to eat something weird like liver and he’ll completely miss tonight’s game of ‘Ghost in the Graveyard’ with the neighbors.
He sighed heavily at the thought. Mom, thinking he was upset about the funeral, laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and gave him a light squeeze of reassurance. Ian almost giggled. He couldn’t help it. It was just too nice of a day to be sad.
Later on, after a thankfully liver-free supper, Ian wandered the expansive back yard of his grandparents’ property. They lived out in the country and their yard went all the way to the tree line in the distance. Acres and acres of earthworms and sunflowers and crickets and groundhog holes were his to explore as he wanted. He found a gnarled stick almost as long as he was tall and used it to beat back some of the taller weeds as he plunged deep into the unknown.
Eventually, he found himself under a large, old oak tree that stood in the middle of a small hill. From the base of the tree, you could see the entire yard in every direction. The red of the neighbor’s barn peeked through the trees to his left. To his right, the weeds surrounded a small pond of dirty brown water where he caught five frogs last summer. Above him, branches thick enough to sit on stretched out in all directions, providing shade for the entire hill. The trunk was knotty and rough and Ian figured the tree was easily five hundred years old. Sitting under the tree was the coolest place on earth on a hot summer day because the sun never touched you except for when the wind blew and the leaves danced and even then, the sunlight was shaded green and brightened the ground more than heated it.
He sat down on the grass and leaned his back against the trunk of the tree, idly scratching designs in the dirt between blades of grass.
“Whacha thinking about?”
Ian looked up to see one of his uncles approach. The one from out West who he only sees once a year around Christmas. Daniel, maybe? Dan? Yeah, that was it. Uncle Dan.
“Nothin,” Ian mumbled, focusing on his stick.
“Yeah,” his uncle replied. “Me too.”
Uncle Dan stood by the tree for a minute with his head cocked as if he was listening to the wind. Finally, half out of a sense of family bonding and half from being uncomfortable his uncle was standing, Ian nodded to his left. “You can sit down, if you want.”
Uncle Dan settled in next to Ian. Ian glanced at him as he was crouching down. He was tall, even for an adult. And thin. Too thin, his Mom would say and then try to feed him half a pan of lasagna. He had on a purple shirt and black tie. His slacks weren’t like Dad’s. These were tighter and had severe creases in them. As he sat, Ian saw that he had purple socks that matched his shirt. Ian giggled.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your socks. They’re purple.”
“Dad only has white socks and one pair of black socks. For days like today,” he added.
His uncle laughed. It was a simple laugh that came easily. It made Ian smile even more.
“Well, that doesn’t seem right. A man needs the right socks for any occasion.”
Ian thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “I guess Dad never needs purple socks.”
Uncle Dan sighed at that. In his heart, Ian sensed there was a story behind that sigh.
“I guess you’re right.” They sat there in silence for a minute. “There’s something to be said for never needing more than just white socks,” he said quietly.
Ian shrugged again. “I guess.”
An ant found its way onto Ian’s stick and steadily crawled up the wood. Ian twisted the stick, keeping the ant from gaining the top. They both watched the ant for a while and let the sun swim across the hazy summer sky.
“You know, you’ve grown almost a foot since I last saw you,” Uncle Dan said, giving Ian an appraising look.
“Do you even remember the last time I was here?”
Ian struggled to remember. “Sorta. Not really.”
His uncle nodded. “I didn’t think so. You were pretty into your new Griffin-class Star Buster.”
“Because it’s cool!”
His uncle laughed again. “Yeah, it is. Shoot, I almost bought one for myself.”
Now it was Ian’s turn to laugh. “You don’t play with toys!”
“’Cause you’re an adult!”
“Grown-ups have to work and fix cars and watch lame shows about cops. They don’t have time for toys.”
“Ah,” he laughed. “Well, then I guess I better stop fooling around all the way out here and get to work!” He made to get up but stopped halfway up. “On second thought, I think I’ll hang out here for a bit yet.” And he settled back down onto the grass.
“We don’t have any toys out here anyway.”
“Yeah,” Ian stuck out his lower lip. “I wish I had my Star—“ Suddenly, his uncle put his hand over Ian’s mouth.
Ian stopped talking and looked around in surprise. Uncle Dan gently removed his hand.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. But you have to be careful with that.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. Know what?”
His uncle let out a heavy sigh. “Man, they don’t teach you kids anything these days, do they?”
“What?” There was a little more whine in his voice than he would have liked.
“Do you know what kind of tree we’re sitting under?”
“An oak,” Ian said proudly.
“Well, yes. An oak. Really? An oak.” He looked up at the branches above them. “Huh. Never knew it was an oak.”
“But,” his uncle continued, “more importantly, this is a Wishing Tree.”
“A Wishing Tree.”
His uncle tilted his head and gave him a hard look.
“It’s a very special kind of tree.” He lowered his voice as he spoke. He looked around to make sure no one was within earshot of them. Ian leaned in close so he could hear what Uncle Dan said before the wind carried the secret away.
“If you sit under the tree, think about what you desire most in life, and say it out loud, the tree will do everything in its power to make your wish come true.”
“But trees don’t have any powers,” Ian protested. “It’s not like they can move or even talk!”
His uncle harrumphed. “As if that means anything!”
“Sure it does!”
“Ian! Think about it. Trees are connected to everything! They get their food from the sun. The sun! They talk with the birds and the wind. Their roots go deep into the earth where we never see. They live a very long time and see everything. And, some trees are even more special than that. Some have special powers. Some are Kissing Trees.” Ian made a face but Uncle Dan ignored it, knowing full well that one day he’d take a special someone to sit under a Kissing Tree. “Some are Healing Trees. This one is a Wishing Tree and has been here for many, many years. When I was your age, I’d sit under this tree and wish for so many things.”
“Did they all come true?”
“A lot of them did, yeah. But here’s the thing; the tree knows the difference between something that you really need and something you just want. The tree won’t waste its time on silly things. And,” his uncle added, “you have to do most of the work. Because, as you pointed out, trees can’t move very well.”
Ian looked up into the tree with a new-found sense of wonder. What had been just a big tree was now a living creature full of magic and intelligence and wonder. He could almost feel the energy flowing down the trunk at his back and under him into the ground. The branches waved to him, letting dappled sunlight warm his face. He felt safe here. Secure. He looked to his uncle and smiled.
“I never knew.”
Uncle Dan patted him on the shoulder. “Now you do. And you’ll never forget.” With that, his uncle got to his feet and, with a quick wave, went back to the house.
Ian sat for some time, thinking about everything his uncle had told him. Finally, he squeezed his eyes so tight he saw purple.
Then, barely more than a whisper: