I Held it in My Hand

I was six years old and playing dolls in my room when my grandpa found me that early spring day.

“Come with me, Amy,” he said. “I want to show you something.”

He took me to the refrigerator and removed a plastic bag full of sawdust. I watched as he pulled out an acorn from the bag and held it out to me.

“Hold tight to that, little one,” he told me. “You are holding a tree.”

“No,” I said, looking at the little seed in my hand. “Not a big tree like the one that holds my swing outside?”

“True, it has a long way to go before it is as big as the tree it fell from,” Grandpa said. “But you have a long way to grow before you are as tall as your mother, too.”

I wrinkled my nose.

Grandpa held out his hand. “Come. We will plant it together.”

I remember being confused when instead of going outside, Grandpa led the way to his shop. His workbench was covered with pots of various sizes and heavily sprinkled with potting soil. A few old tools protruded from boxes under the counters, rusted from their life of wet usage. The air smelled of soil and fertilizer, the essence of Spring.

Grandpa brought over a stool and patted the top. “Sit here, Amy.”

I crawled up onto the seat and carefully laid my acorn onto the counter.

“Now,” he said. “Your acorn is not ready to be placed outside in the dirt. It is not strong enough to withstand the weather or little animals that might want to eat it. So, we must make a place for it here in the shop.”

I eyed the piles of pots on the counter, wondering which would be the special place for my acorn. But Grandpa bent over and dug in a box under the counter and when he straightened, he held a small Styrofoam cup in his hand. I watched as he took a wood pencil and punched it through the sides near the bottom several times. He set it in front of me. I remember thinking it was a pathetic way for a magnificent tree to start. If indeed my seed would grow into a tree.

Grandpa reached again under the counter and this time surfaced with two bags.

“Acorns need spongy dirt in order to grow,” he told me. “We will use a combination of potting soil and moss.”

He let me sink my hands into each bag for a handful and then mix them together and pour them into our pathetic pot. The cup tipped over more than once and spilled our mixture onto the counter but Grandpa did not seem to mind.

We packed the little cup to within an inch of the top and then Grandpa let me dig a little hole and place my acorn inside.

“Do not cover it over with too much dirt,” he cautioned me. “Just until it is barely covered.”

“Now what?” I asked.

“Now we must water it.” He helped me down from my stool and handed me my cup. Together we went to the sink. Grandpa warned me not to turn the water on too hard because it would wash away our spongy soil. He had me hold the cup under the water until the water ran out of the holes he had made in the bottom.

“Acorns need lots of water to grow,” he told me, “but they also need sun. And I have the perfect place for it.”

Back to the shop we went and he pointed to one of his windows. “If we set your cup on the window ledge it will get lots of southerly sunshine. All my trees have liked it there.”

I propped my cup onto the ledge. “Now what, Grandpa?”

“Now we wait.”

“For how long?”

“Oh, not too long. But just because we are waiting does not mean that your acorn does not need to be taken care of. You much watch it carefully, Amy. Do not let it get too dry. Water it every day. Talk to it. Encourage it to grow and I promise you, it will one day be a tree.”

It was hard to believe but I did as he said and waited on my acorn like a mother, watering it every time the soil felt dry and talking to it as if it could hear me. Sometimes Grandpa joined me.

As the days passed, I began to see a little green shoot appearing. I was ecstatic. Maybe, just maybe, one day my acorn would be a tree.

At the end of three weeks, my acorn was nearly six inches tall and had a few tiny leaves.

“It is time to start teaching it about the world it will live in,” Grandpa said when I showed him my cup.

Together we took my cup outside and found a sunny place to set it.

“It can stay out here for a little while,” he told me, “but not too long. Your seedling is not very strong yet.”

I sat in a chair and kept watch over my cup, chasing the dog away when she tried to knock it over and stopping the cat from rubbing against it.

When Mama called me in for lunch, I returned my cup to its sunny spot in Grandpa’s shop window. I took it back outside every sunny day after that, gradually leaving it out a little longer each time.

A week later, Grandpa helped me to transplant my acorn into a bigger cup.

“The roots are growing,” he said. “We must give them more room.” He also told me that my tree was strong enough now to stay outside all the time. He helped me build a wire cage to keep the animals away.

“Keep watering it, Amy,” he said. “You are doing a great job.”

By late June, my tree was even taller and had grown another bunch of leaves. Grandpa helped me transplant it again, this time into one of his bigger pots.

“See the roots, Amy?” He held my tree up for me to see. “They are white and healthy. This will be one fine tree.”

I continued to care for my tree. Once I had to save it from aphids that I found scattered all over its little leaves. Grandpa gave me a paint brush and had me brush them off.

Summer came. My cousins came to visit and I accidentally forgot to water my tree. By the time I remembered the soil was hard and dry and the leaves looked limp. Grandpa showed me how to fill a big bucket and push the whole pot underwater and hold it there until it stopped bubbling.

“Growing a tree is hard work,” he told me. “Do not give up, Amy. Soon it will be old enough to care for itself.”

When fall came, Grandpa helped me pick a spot in the backyard to plant my tree.

“One day it will be a very large tree,” he said. “We must plant it away from anything that could one day be in its way.”

We worked hard preparing the soil by breaking it up and pulling weeds. Then, finally, I brought my tree to the spot. Grandpa helped me carefully remove it from the pot and sink it into the ground. Grandpa brought mulch to spread around its base.

“You did a good job, Amy,” Grandpa said. “Now let’s see how big this tree grows.”

That was thirty years ago. I am married now and have two children of my own. Sometimes we come to visit my grandpa. He does not get out as much as he used to but each time I come he insists on walking with me to see my tree.

Standing under the spreading arms of the now over thirty foot tree, my grandpa always grabs my hand in his and squeezes it hard.

“You did a good job, Amy,” he says. “It is a beautiful tree.”

Standing there watching my children play in the shade always leaves me with a special feeling. I have told them the story of my tree many times. I think they have a hard time believing that I once held this mighty tree in the palm of my six-year-old hand.