It was the two of us, me and Charlie, who did it. Crazy thing is, I can’t remember why. Could be we were just fed up with having older brothers (mine was Benny; his was Donny) who tormented us in ways they made sure our parents would never know about. Anyway, one afternoon recess at Airydale, our one-room school, found us using baseball bats to punish the sycamore sapling that stood on the edge of the playground.
The bell to end recess had rung, but I guess we never heard it. We were too busy hacking down the limbs and pounding the trunk of the tree in such a frenzy that we didn’t notice our teacher coming toward us. The other kids were inside staring out the windows. Then we saw her, standing there with her arms folded, looking at us with a stare cold enough to freeze our arms in mid-stroke.
“Come inside,” she said. She turned around and walked to the front door. We followed. She said nothing about what we had done, simply continued with the usual class recitations. Then, just before dismissal, she told the two of us to stay in our seats. She opened a book from her desk and read aloud a poem: “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Then she had us take turns writing it on the blackboard. She told us we would memorize it by the end of the week and then recite it in front of everyone on Monday.
When Monday arrived, a visitor came to our school. Mrs. Trueblood introduced him and told all of us he had been her student at our school and that he had helped plant the tree we had destroyed. She said she wanted to hear me and Charlie recite “Trees.” We did, our knees shaking. He told us he had brought a small tree with him and that he wanted us to help him plant it. We went outside with all our schoolmates. They watched in solemn silence as the two of us dug a hole, planted the tree, and watered it. Lesson learned.