Eleven year-old Helena smiled contentedly at the rays of the summer sun trickling through the thick, leafy canopy of the live oaks. She loved walking along the shady lane that led to Grandma’s big mansion by the bayou, as it gave her time to forget everything and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the surroundings. She had been visiting Grandma – who was not her real grandma – at least once a week for as long as she could remember.
Grandma was a wise, old, retired housemaid who had inherited the big old house and surrounding property from her employer when she died childless at the grand old age of 96. Grandma was very kind and had a local reputation for lending a hand to those in need. To Helena, Grandma was someone whom she could share her stories and ideas with. Helena would tell Grandma about how the state of the world troubled her and ask lots of questions. Grandma would just listen. She always let Helena vent her feelings and thoughts, and afterwards – often after a good cry – Grandma would bring it all into a different perspective so that Helena could go home feeling self-confident and loved.
However, this time there was something different about Grandma. Helena sensed it when Grandma opened the door. Although Grandma smiled heartily and welcomed Helena in, she had a different feel about her. And, instead of sitting down first to enjoy their traditional drink of root beer and a selection of cookies or cakes, Grandma invited Helena to accompany her on a walk through the gardens.
“Come with me, sweetheart, I have something I wish to show you,” Grandma said with her thick South Carolina accent.
It was not so much the words that struck her as the deep, calmness with which the words were uttered. Helena decided not to comment on what she sensed. Instead, she followed Grandma outside through the kitchen at the back of the house, where Grandma picked up a basket that stood on the large table.
“We’ll be needing that later on,” Grandma winked as to indicate there were lots of tasty things to eat in the basket.
The two friends had been strolling for a quarter of an hour, when they arrived at a part of the gardens where Helena had never been before. Grandma sensed this and told her this was one of the mansion’s best-kept secrets.
“I want to show you something very special,” she explained. “Something that I hold dearly and which I hope you will too.”
Helena’s eyes opened wide and her curiosity was soon satisfied when they arrived at a clearing. In the middle stood an enormous lone tree – a live oak – with heavy boughs that almost touched the ground.
“Ohh,” Helena sighed with awe.
“Yes, I know, magnificent, isn’t it?” Grandma asked while she placed the basket on the grass nearby the oak. Close enough to enjoy the shade and far away enough for them to see the tree as a whole.
Then, Grandma removed the large red napkin that covered the basket and took out the contents one by one, spreading these out on a blanket for Helena to feast her eyes on.
“Well, go ahead and choose what you want,” she beckoned to Helena when she had finished.
Helena did not hesitate one moment and carefully placed a piece of apple pie on a small plate while Grandma poured root beer into two glasses.
“Cheers, pumpkin, here’s to us,” Grandma said raising her glass.
Helena raised her glass too and smiled. She loved Grandma’s sense of grandeur.
They both took a sip and then proceeded to enjoy the lovely treats Grandma had spent the morning baking.
When they had finished and Helena exclaimed how ‘stuffed’ she was, Grandma cleared her throat, looked deep into Helena’s green eyes and said:
“I would like you to regard this as my going away meal, sugar plum.”
In turn, Helena looked into Grandma’s dark brown eyes in bewilderment. Her gut feeling upon entering the house that afternoon turned out to be spot on. There certainly was something different about Grandma.
“What is it, Grandma?” she asked, her voice quivering. “Where are you going?”
“Do you remember that raven last winter?”
“It didn’t die for any old reason, it died because it was time for it to go.”
Upon hearing these words, Helena’s stomach churned. What was Grandma trying to tell her?
“Well, sweetheart, the time has come for me to go too,” Grandma explained.
Helena tried to speak. She tried to tell Grandma that it could not be true, but the tears welling in her eyes and the lump in her throat prevented her from speaking.
“Yes, my precious Helena, last night a slight breeze told me so. I know this has come as a shock to you, but I must go. But before I do, I have something to tell you.”
By now, Helena’s tears rolled down her cheeks, but she listened carefully to what Grandma had to say.
“This oak has stood here for over three hundred years and will continue doing so for a few hundred more. To me it symbolizes: endurance, great strength and, above all, wisdom. That is why I believe it to be your tree, Helena.”
Helena, who was wiping away her last tears, looked inquisitively at Grandma.
“You also possess such qualities, dear. Qualities that humankind is in great need of in these times of turbulence. Now more than ever, we need a strong, wise and loving leader who will lead the way to a loving and happy world and enable us to make our dreams come true.”
Helena swallowed and said: “Yes, I believe we do, Grandma, but what does this have to do with me?”
“You are such a leader, Helena. And this magnificent oak is going to help you. It did not grow to such an old age through fear and indecisiveness; it grew with faith and unconditional love. Just like you, actually. So, when I’m here no longer and you need my advice, just come to the oak and talk to it. It will provide you with the answers you need, it will guide you.”
Helena did not respond. Instead, she smiled the most radiant of smiles. Her smile came from the glowing sensation in her heart. Now she understood what Grandma meant. She knew she was right and that is why she experienced such a deep feeling of love. Grandma sensed this. Now it was she whose eyes became moist with tears. She smiled back at Helena and placed her right hand on her heart. Helena followed her example.
“You can do it, sweet Helena. Lead the way.”
“I will, Grandma, I will.”
Then, Helena leaned towards Grandma, wrapped her arms around her tightly and kissed her all over her frizzy, grey hair as if she was bidding her farewell.
The next day when Helena came visiting, a young man opened the door.
“Good afternoon,” he said, “I guess you must be Helena.”
“Yes, I am,” Helena replied.
“My name’s Joshua. I’m Grandma’s grandson.”
“She’s gone away, hasn’t she?” Helena asked.
“That’s right, but she left a note asking us to tell you to visit the old oak. I assume you know what she means?”
“Yes, I do. Thank you ever so much, Joshua,” Helena smiled and she turned around and ran to the back of the gardens.
When she arrived at the oak, she was startled by what she saw. On the exact spot where she and Grandma had sat the day before, there was now a tiny little oak that appeared to have sprouted overnight and in the middle of summer.
“Grandma,” Helena whispered with a big smile on her face, and her eyes filled with tears of joy.
John Cougar Mellencamp – Now More Than Ever
Oak: Survival, Power, Wisdom
Helena: Bright Shining Light
‘Live Oak‘ by Mel Cogan on Freeimages.com
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