Waiting Under the Tree
The young schoolteacher was puzzled. Through weeks of rainy spring weather, she'd found her muddied clogs, cleaned and neatly replaced under her desk. A solitary crocus blossom graced the daily presentation. The teacher wondered who her thoughtful admirer could be.
The year was 1938 and Europe was in turmoil. The young educator's first assignment was far from her hometown in southern Sweden. She missed the place where refined, well-dressed folks spoke proper Swedish. Her teaching mission landed her in a small Nordic town, complete with harsh climate, a strange dialect and an abundance of challenges.
When she looked out and surveyed her class, she wondered how many of them would complete their education. Many of them were children of farmers, fishermen and loggers. In tough times, they were likely to be called back to the land, the sea and the forests - to help their family survive. Others would fall prey to health perils like Tuberculosis, which continued to claim high numbers in the northern latitudes. The teacher often questioned her impact on the students' lives. Indeed, what was she doing there, with her fine paintbrushes, looms and classical music recordings?
At the end of each school day, the teacher mounted her bicycle and pedaled through the dense forest toward her small apartment in the town. For some time, regardless of the weather, she'd noticed a girl under a tree by the side of the road. Each day, as the teacher passed by, the girl waved and offered a gentle smile.
Time passed and the teacher became more curious. One day, she eased her bicycle off the wet path and spoke with the round-faced child. The girl curtsied deeply and shook her blond, bowl-cut hair before speaking. With all of the courage an 11 year old could muster, the girl asked if she could please join the teacher's art class.
The teacher paused, knowing that the child came from a household where Tuberculosis had claimed the mother's health. This spelled an uncertain future for the girl; concern far beyond educational prospects. At the time, it must have seemed more prudent to direct the child's energies to more distinctly practical, domestic courses. But the teacher did not want to hurt the girl's feelings. She told the girl that, sadly, the class was full. She wished the child "good day" and pedaled off toward town.
But the next day, and many more to follow, that same waif-like, wide-eyed girl waited by the tree. The teacher found it difficult to pass by without averting her eyes from the girl's soft smile and slow wave. Back at the school, the teacher's muddied clogs were cleaned, every day. The teacher finally made the connection.
She could no longer bear to pass the hopeful child. She acknowledged the child's persistence and invited her to join the class for the remainder of the school year. In response to the teacher's invitation, the child could barely contain her excitement. Flush-faced, with blue eyes dancing, she gave a happy little "thank you" shriek before running homeward.
Happy days followed. The teacher observed how the girl came to thrive in the classroom, so full of sunlight and culture, masters' prints, bowls of flowers and balls of brightly colored yarns. Quickly, the girl quickly became the teacher's pride and joy, producing the kind of fine quality workmanship that suggested artistic promise. The following year, the hungry young learner gained additional instruction and help. For the girl, the class became a magical sanctuary; a respite from the sadness at home.
Over time, it became clear that the girl's mother would not survive and the teacher realized that the girl's education would likely come to an end. She would be needed at home to help care for the house and her four siblings. When they parted, the teacher gave the girl a sachet and a long, long hug. Neither the teacher nor the girl would forget their meeting, their time together, or their goodbye.
The seeds planted in 1938 blossomed later. The girl grew to become a sparkling, sweet beauty. One summer, she met a young American man who was visiting northern Sweden with his parents. Much transatlantic letter writing ensued before she packed a small trunk. At age 19, she immigrated to Colorado and embraced her new life there. She and her beau married and raised three daughters in a unique environment.
The daughters' home was oasis of artistic expression. It seemed that the process of creating and "making" was always in high gear. Education was highly stressed and much importance was placed on pursuing dreams. Whenever the girls experienced setbacks, frustrations or obstacles, their mother urged them to persevere and hold on to their cherished goals. She showed them, by example, how to live "full of try." She'd often remind them of her own story, waiting under the tree. Her girls would never, ever, forget this story.
I sometimes wonder about the trajectory of my life. How would it have been, had that patient young girl lacked such a determined, tenacious spirit? Had that youngster not kept her vigil under the tree, my life would have been so very different. I may not have known about art, brilliant colors, knitting needles, a college education, or Vivaldi. Lucky, lucky me. The girl who waited under the tree was my mother.