The spindly pine seedling poked a few inches above the Styrofoam cup clutched in my kindergartner’s hands. He proudly held his Arbor Day gift and wanted to plant it. Our yard was narrow and heavily shaded by mature maple trees, and the pine tree wouldn’t do well. I explained how the tree would be tall someday and would need lots of space. Though tiny, we needed to plan for how big it could be one day.
Next time we visited my parent’s home outside of Milwaukee, we took along the seedling which Brandon had watered and tended for several weeks. (Fascinating to see what a dedicated six-year old will commit to.) I had spoken with my green-thumbed mother, daughter of a central Illinois farmer and she knew the place to plant The Brandon Tree.
Together we dug a hole, pulled the tangled roots out of the cup, and patted the dirt like we were tucking the pine into bed. Barely sticking above the lush lawn, the lawn mower could decimate the seedling more reminiscent of a bonsai project than a future towering tree. We put a tomato stake guard around it, Brandon soaked the soil with the watering can and went in for dinner.
He envisioned the tree sprouting tall overnight, and was disappointed to see it was the same size the next morning. It wasn’t noticeably taller the next time we visited or the next time or the next time. We promised him that one day the Brandon Tree would tower over him, but that was tough for a kindergartner to imagine let alone wait for.
For the first years, the Brandon Tree put down roots when we wanted to see more branches and height, proof it was growing. Each visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Brandon checked on his tree. My parents regularly sent photos of Grandpa mowing around the tree wearing his Pella window hat or Grandma with the yellow yard clippers going round the tomato stake on her knees.
Ranking in the 90th percentile from birth, the real Brandon towered over the Brandon Tree. The tree barely topped his socks until Brandon was in sixth or seventh grade when the tree had a growth spurt and looked him in the eye. Then Brandon grew six inches between the start and end of eighth grade and the tree lost ground to the taller-than-mom giant with knee-length tube socks on long legs.
After Mom passed away twelve years ago, Dad remarried, sold the house and moved a few numbers down the street. Brandon, now in his early 30’s, measures 6’ 5”, but the Brandon Tree has won. It towers about two-stories high and shows no sign of stopping. Still spindly like a high school basketball player with limbs akimbo, we’re waiting for it to thicken and sport a paunch.
Every time I’m up for a visit, I pass the house on the corner and look for the Brandon tree. In the shadows, I see the determined six-year old holding the seedling, firmly convinced it could be a Christmas tree someday. Then the frustration of negligible growth, the waiting, and the dismay when it looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Then the restrained delight of the pre-adolescent when he and the tree were the same height.
In Milwaukee recently to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday, we paused the car near the Brandon Tree. Staring into the branches stretching high in the aura from a street light, I thought, “Raising sturdy pines isn’t for the impatient, the hurried, or the control freak.” Three generations planted, protected, watered, and weeded, but we didn’t, we couldn’t, make the silly thing grow. All we could do was hope and wait. Fortunately that’s all it needed.
“He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.” Isaiah 44:14