Thoughts from the journey… Excerpts from a day in the life of Sherry McLaughlin


Plant a Tree

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees,

books in the
 running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.

William Shakespeare

“C’mon, Shei (my nickname)! Let’s go to Bordines!” The tone in his voice was unmistakable—and a sure sign that spring had sprung. The local nursery was calling his name and he was ready to go and spend some serious money on plant life.

My father would commandeer my services several times a year. I’m not sure why I was the one chosen. My hunch is that I was the one least likely to complain. So there I would find myself, riding shotgun in the family station wagon headed to a large nursery.

Once we arrived, he would jump out of the car and begin eagerly perusing the aisles. I would grab one of those bulky, flat carts and attempt to keep up with his quick step. He would stop and survey the trees and shrubs and when he found one he wanted he would point to it.

“That one. That one is nice,” he would say.

I would walk over, bend down and hoist the plant onto the cart and we would continue on. In a matter of 20 minutes, the cart would be loaded to overflowing with plants of all sizes and shapes.

Oh, yeah, and we couldn’t forget the peat moss. Those giant bags of decomposed greenery that were never easy to maneuver. I would look at his face, smiling and eager, and I would look at the cartload of stuff and think, “There is something wrong with this picture. We are going to have a ton of work ahead of us.”

My father was notorious for working a lot—and loving it. He applied the same kind of fervor to his gardening as he did to his work in the emergency room. On our spring planting days, it wouldn’t be unusual for us to be in the garden digging, fertilizing, planting and watering until late into the evening. I think he purposely had the front yard adequately lit so that our workday could continue past sundown. After all, he was used to pulling 24-hour shifts in the ER—working a 12-hour day in the garden was practically a vacation.

As we worked, he would talk. Topics would range from what I wanted to do when I grew up, to travel ideas to singing songs to why it was important to put plastic down before we dumped rocks in strategic places according to his landscape plan—all intermixed with directions on where I should haul the next tree or plant to be inserted into the ground. Periodically, he would pause, stand up and admire a tree that he had just planted.

I mean, really admire it. For a really long time.

You know, chest out, hands on hips and dirt smudged on his smiling face. Sheer satisfaction. Five minutes might pass before anything was said.

Being the impatient youngster that I was and feeling the exhaustion of a long day, I would look up at the setting sun and then look over at my dad and think…it’s just a tree.

“Doesn’t that look nice?” he would ask with a gleam in his eye.

“Yeah, dad. Looks great,” I would reply.

By the end of the day, our yard would be transformed into something fitting of a famous garden in Paris. Those are not my words. Friends, family and neighbors passing by would pause at the masterpiece. Some would just shake their heads. But all would smile.

Back then, to me that garden represented a lot of work. Some completed—and a lot more on the way. Since he passed away, I’ve looked at that garden with different eyes. It was a place where I grew up—where I got to see a side of my dad that many didn’t. A place where stories were told and songs were sung. A place where I learned how to work until dark, plant a tree—and take the time to admire it. It was a place where history was made between my dad and I. Thank God I never complained.

I think he knew I would stop to really admire it one day. Somehow, I think he knew—one day I would need to.

The majestic garden with its flowers, bricks, rocks and fountains has since been overhauled and simplified. But what remains are six of the most beautiful Japanese maple trees I have ever seen. Proud. Dependable. History.

I now have a house of my own with three Japanese maple trees planted in the yard. Funny thing. After a hectic day of work, chores and life in general, I find myself sitting on my front step or in the back yard just staring at those trees—sometimes for an hour—silent and smiling inside and out.

And I know my son probably looks at me and thinks, “Mom, it’s just a tree.”

The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life Lesson #3

Plant a tree with someone you love.

Long after you are gone,

The lessons of work, life and love

Will go a long way to healing a soul.

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