Reprint, 2008 published locally in Kutztown Historical Society booklet and 2011 on Berks County TV web site.
When I attended a one-room school, we had to stand up front and recite poetry. Although I didn’t like to recite in front of all the kids, I did love poetry itself. My favorite poem was “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
and lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
From poetry, my love of trees spread to real life trees. I had a vast array of trees on the farmstead where I was born in 1940. I was probably 7 or 8 years old when my mother finally allowed me to climb the trees with my older siblings.
My favorite was a young maple tree in the front yard. It wasn’t too high. I could climb to the crook, where the branches stretched out in all directions. Sitting on one of the stronger branches, I’d balance myself and shimmy my body piece-way out. From there, I’d bend backwards, flying free, hanging by my legs. As I became older and braver, I somersaulted from branch to ground. I couldn’t count the many times that I must have called, “Mom, Mom, come watch.”
Another tree in the front yard was a huge, old chestnut tree. My older brother managed to climb this tree, but I was always too scared. Even though it was too high for me, it did serve the family, and me, in other ways. The house key, with a long, dangling string attached, hung in the crook of this tree. Although this bright red string was quite visible, my parents were never concerned that anyone would even think of stealing or trespass on our property.
What I liked best about this tree was its chestnuts. Every fall, we children picked them and played a myriad of games with them. I must say that in this same season, I enjoyed visits to our neighbor over the hill. This mother allowed her children to bring the chestnuts from their yard indoors. They were strewn from one end of the house to the other. I never was able to convince my mother to allow chestnuts in the house.
Just across the street from our home stood another large maple tree. It had quite large roots, half-way above ground, branching out and away from its trunk. The little area between roots was my sand box. Each summer, my father purchased a bag or two of sand to fill it to the brim. I spend endless hours building castles and tunnels.
The pond on our farm sat below the house. On the far side of the pond were a number of willow trees. This is where we had the swings. Pop’s old car tires served many exhilarating swings into the sky and back again.
Branches of twigs were fun, too. We hung onto long willow twigs, got a running start, and swung our bodies way out over the pond. Then we’d fall free into cool, fresh spring water.
One of the willow trees had an open half-rotted trunk that had a big gap in it. My sister Gladys and I loved it dearly, especially on winter days. Our mother insisted that we wear thick, long ugly brown stockings to school. Each day, my sister and I took the stockings off at the willow tree, slinging them inside the rotted hole. We were all smiles as we continued our walk to our one-room school house. After school, we’d revisit our “special” tree, putting the ugly stockings back on and walking quite proudly into the house, Mom none the wiser.
I was around twelve years old when my mother convinced my father to take a trip to Florida with the children. Pop was not one to take vacations from his farm work. I think that Mom was able to persuade him to go because my oldest brother and his wife resided in Florida.
Both my brother and his wife taught school. My brother was also an excellent photographer. One day, while touring Delray Beach, Lester decided to take a photo of his baby sister beneath a palm tree. I cherished this photo and had it framed. Wherever I moved, the photo went with me.
Forty-seven years after that photo was taken, my husband and I vacationed in Florida. I had an idea. I asked my husband if we could “try” and find this same palm tree -- after all, the photo had a house in the background that could still be in Delray Beach. My husband willingly obliged. After a few attempts driving up and down streets to find “the tree,” my husband gave up. But I did get my photo taken holding the old photo, while sitting under a different palm tree.
As a teen, I don’t recall trees having been as important in my life as dances, sports, and boyfriends. But, I learned to love them all over again as a young mother.
At this time in my life, the barn on my father’s farm had been struck by lightning and burned. The farm was sold and is now a nursery for trees, bushes, and plants. A fitting ending for the land that my father loved so much. It was from this nursery that I had asked my husband, “Couldn’t we purchase a tree and plant it in our yard?” Thus it was that we now have a gorgeous, red maple that we simply call “Pop’s tree” in our back yard.
Another tree we loved on our property was a dogwood, planted by the previous owner. It stood rather close to the garage and was our shade and picnic area. At some point, we decided to build a deck outside the back of the garage. We simply could not allow this beautiful dogwood, which gave us so much beauty in spring and shade at other times, to be cut down. So we simply built a deck around our tree.
No matter where I lived, I was insistent on having trees in the yard. I enjoyed watching my own children climb trees and call, “Mom, Mom, come watch!” Many were the times I just watched. And now the grandchildren are enjoying the large maple tree. They want to be lifted up high by Pop-Pop into the crook of the tree. And once again we listen, “Mom-Mom, Pop-Pop, come watch!” And we watch all over again.
Trees have given me more than a beautiful visual image; they’ve been playtime for both myself and my continuing family. They’ve given me wood fire for warmth, furniture, a home, books to read and paper to write on. Stories are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree. I’m grateful for these trees in my life.
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday sstories to season stories and more.