Inspired by the deaths of Ray Bradbury and Maurice Sendak, I wanted to give a tribute to my favorite children’s story of all time.
The Giving Tree.
This beautiful love story, written in 1964, was my most read story to my parents at bedtime when I was young. I never grew tired of it. I never knew why. I’m not even sure I understand the full depth of this story yet. The first few pages, as time goes, by are like a memory of my own childhood. As an adult, I have read this story almost as much. I don’t have any children of my own. If I was “the boy”, I would be done selling apples in the city at this point in my life. I’m on my way back to the tree for some branches.
But, I guess one reason that I have not grown out of this story is that the boy never grows out of it. The story follows his relationship with the tree until their death together.
I assume that everyone has thought at some point that the tree symbolizes life, and I won’t say that it doesn’t. Just the fact that the boy is not named gives way to the interpretation that it might be an allegory and not just another children’s story. However, I want to explain why I think that the story is about family. Maybe even more specific, to parenting, much like The Runaway Bunny by Beatrix Potter.
My big clue into this is that my parents loved this book, and not for their own relationships with it. They both have read the book since they were children. The reason that I believe that they loved it is because THEY can relate to it in a parenting perspective.
“Once, there was a tree… and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.”
One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to walk around in my dad’s shoes. I would pretend to be him, and act like a grown up. I always wanted to be like my dad. When I was a baby, we would play a game that he called, “Danger Man Danger.” This might sound like child-abuse, but he would balance me on one hand, while I laughed and screamed. Eventually I grew larger, and my two feet couldn’t fit in his hand. Anyway, we had another game were we would use our arms like swords and play.
My dad was fun. I remember those days, and even when I can remember throwing tantrums and being mad, I always remember the times when he smiled and played and laughed. He’s older now, and his branches are gone, but he and my mom still try to play with my little sister.
My mom was great at play too. Whenever we went swimming, I would swim all around her, and play shark, and splash, and hide. We’d go inside and she’d make cookies and teach me how to draw. She was great at it.
Anyway, all I think about when I read those lines are how I as a boy felt, and imagining the faces on my parents and how they must have felt as my tree.
Time has gone by, and I grew older. I started to feel older, and I wanted my independence. I started to look for schools and jobs. I wanted to not be bothered. I wanted to go away. I still loved my parents, but the scene needed to change. The tree was always there, but the tree would always be there.
I know my parents were scared and sad. Maybe I was too. Maybe the little boy was scared witless when he was asking the tree for some apples. But, like me, he wanted to go have fun and experience the world.
What’s odd to think is that if I was the boy selling apples, my parents would have been the boy asking for branches. They wanted to provide for me and move on in life to a new kind of excitement. The excitement of family.
Anyways, right now I am applying to graduate schools, and I’m getting my life in place. I have plans and goals, and it’s very exciting. I feel like I am moving further and further from my parents, but they are supporting me through all of this. They are still worried, and they’re sad that I’m gone, but they are always jubilant when I tell them some new thing that I’ve done. I can almost see their leaves quivering.
And here I am, realizing that these great things are happening, and I’m choked up. I love how the simple sketches that illustrate the story are so powerful. They guide the story along. They also have meaning, not only that they show the boy and tree, but more that because they are simple, they reflect on how universal the story is.
Anyone can look at that boy and see themselves.
Anyone can read how the tree responds and see themselves.
And all I know is that Shel Silverstein has given me a greater insight into my life, parents, family, and our relationships, than I would have ever been able to express on my own.