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Todd's Little Tree

A tale of a very determined little boy

by Jan Hasselius

When the city of Blaine, Minnesota, decided to beautify the streets with ash trees, they didn't get around to planting them until late in the fall. Some of the trees made it through their first Minnesota winter, and some didn't. The one in front of our house didn't.

Todd was five years old and in kindergarten. He fell in love with the new ash tree on our street. It was about twice his size and he watered it daily. He protected it from dogs and shielded it from stray kids. When he played outside that winter, he talked to 'his' tree and wrapped a blanket around its base to protect it. But then came spring-and the tree didn't leaf out.

"Todd", I told him, "I am sorry, but the tree just didn't make it through the long, cold winter. We need to replace it."

But Todd didn't believe me. His eyes misted, his lower lip poked out, and he said, "No! My tree is fine. My tree is still sleeping. It doesn't know it is time to wake up. It is just a little tree like me." I decided I'd leave the dead tree there to give Todd time to accept the loss.

That summer, the Board of Public Works replaced the water and sewer lines in our neighborhood. Workers dug into the boulevards and tore out the dead trees. When Todd came home from day camp, he found his tree, dug up and with its roots exposed, on a mound of rubble.

Todd was angry. Todd was very, very angry. Those city workers had just left his tree on a pile of dirt. They had tried to kill his tree.

I tried to reason with him. "Todd, the workers didn't know you were trying to grow that tree. They'll plant a new tree there when they're through wit the street work."

That didn't quell his anger. "I don't want a new tree! My tree will grow!" He replanted the tree; however, being a five-year-old, he couldn't tell the roots from the crown. He ended up planting it upside down; it gnarled roots reaching for the sky.

"Todd," I said gently, "I think we need to look carefully at your tree." I showed him how to scratch the bark to see if there was green wood underneath. It wasn't green; it was brown. "I'm afraid that means your tree isn't alive anymore, Todd." Todd pinched his lips and shook his head, so I went on. "See the little feeder root hairs here? That means this part is the roots. You have it upside down, dear. If you want to see if the tree can live, at least let us plant it with the roots in the ground."

"It's not upside down!" Todd insisted, sadly. "It is my tree and I know that is the top!"

So all that summer we had an upside-down tree on our street. Todd wouldn't allow anyone, kid or adult, to touch his little tree. He watched me take care of the plants in my garden and copied me. He mulched the base of his tree. He talked to the tree. He watered the tree. He would not give up on h is tree.

That fall, Todd started first grade. One day when he got off the school bus, he saw a little tree with leaves growing strong and healthily in front of our house. He ran into the house. "Mom! Mom! My tree made it! ~ It's growing!" His eyes were bright and shiny. He grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front window to see. I squeezed his hand, smiled, and gave him some milk and cookies.

All was right with the world. Todd had known his little tree would make it-and there it was! His chest expanded with pride.

Just then his friend Greg called out to him from the screen door. "Todd! Come see, we have new trees! The city came and took out all the dead trees and gave us live ones!"

Todd stopped eating his cookie. He looked at me. "Did they city do that, Mom?"

"Yes, dear. The city came today with new and healthy trees and replaced all the dead ones."

"Oh, well." Todd said. "That is good. Some of those trees didn't get taken care of as good as my little tree. It is a good thing I took such good care of my little tree so it didn't have to be replaced." Smiling, he finished his cookie. Then he went outside to play with his friend.

 
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