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U3A Writing: The Yellow Wood Tree

The yellow wood tree became a symbol of home, peace and the future for Robert when he was serving in the army in World War Two. But Robert is in his seventies, and the tree has become a different kind of symbol. as Joan Murton reveals in this comforting story.

Robert sat in his favourite spot under the yellow wood tree. He felt an affinity with the elderly tree as his parents had planted it when he was away in the army during the Second World War. In their letters they had described the site they had chosen for it, explaining that by the time he returned they hoped it would have grown sufficiently to provide a shady area in the garden.

How he had looked forward to their letters. His father had sent him reports on the height of the tree and how much it had grown during the summer. The tree became a symbol of home, peace and the future for him.

He remembered some of his terrible experiences. Many times, during those long years away, in the pandemonium of a battle when he had been panic stricken, he had tried to picture the tree and the garden and, somehow, those images had calmed him; his courage had returned along with his determination to survive. It had not been easy to settle down after so long away and he had found it even more difficult to forget the distressing memories of close friends and companions killed or hideously disabled. He knew he was lucky to have returned safely to his family.

He closed his eyes and smiled as he recalled how much Helen had helped him to bury his feeling of unworthiness and encouraged him to believe he was entitled to a future. She had been so positive, rightly so, he knew. She had made him aware of the futility of the remorse which he had felt. Gently, she had insisted that he had a right to his spared life. She had sat with him in the sparse shade of the young yellow wood tree and, gradually, he began to emerge from the numbness he had experienced following his demobilisation from the Army.

He joined his father in the family business, Helen and he had married and life had been very good to them. Their two sons had spent happy hours on the swing which their grandfather had created with ropes and a plank on one of the branches of the yellow wood, by then a strong young tree. It threw welcome shade over a patch of lawn during the summer months and supported a hammock as well as the swing. In fact, the tree was almost a member of the family.

Robert raised his eyes to the spread of branches above him. They fanned out from the trunk of the tree, now grown tall and fat. Amongst the leaves the doves sat softy cooing in the soporific warmth. He recalled the many Sunday afternoons when they had all sat around a table set in the shade of the tree. His mother always made fresh lemonade for the children and there were sandwiches and Earl Grey tea for the grown ups.

Some shrivelled leaves drifting down on to his upturned face brought him back to the present. He opened his eyes, blinking against the strong sunlight beyond the shade of
the yellow wood. Helen was approaching, stooped now as she carried a tray with the equipment for tea on it. He sat up on the chaise longue and removed some newspapers

from the seat nearby. Helen placed the tea tray on the garden table and sighed as she lowered herself into the chair.

Robert turned to look at her. “Why the sigh?’’ he asked. “Life’s too short,” she replied. “There’s so much I’d like to do with this garden. We never installed the water feature we talked about, did we?’’

“No,” Robert replied, “But we can do that anytime you like.’’

“Have you noticed”? Helen asked, “ The yellow wood is looking very sad.”

“Sad” he echoed, “What do you mean?''

“It doesn’t seem to have any new growth this year,” answered Helen.

Robert looked at the ground. “There are more dry leaves than usual,” he commented, “Perhaps we should get Anton to give us his expert opinion. I’d hate it to die.”


“Did Anton come today”? Robert asked Helen as he entered the kitchen after returning from his game of golf the next day.

“He did,” she replied, frowning, “And the news is not good. The yellow wood has a bug which has got into its bark and it will have to be treated. Anton says that it hasn’t got too well established, he thinks he can treat it quickly.’’

“Lucky we noticed it yesterday then” Robert said. “Can you imagine the garden without that tree?’’

“It has made me think,'' said Helen. “We must plant another yellow wood, just in case. I thought we could put one near your workshop to give that some shade.”

Robert laughed, “Well, as you said yesterday, life is too short. I doubt if I’ll be around by the time it’s big enough to give shade, my love,” he said. “But perhaps one of the boys, or their boys even, will benefit from it.’’

Helen smiled. “You know” she said, “it makes you realise that life isn’t short after all. We just hand it on to the next generation. Perhaps it’s time for the old yellow wood to hand on its life..”

Robert thought for a moment. “Well, I have no complaints,” he said “My life has been much longer than I expected it would be when I was in the Army and you’ve helped me to fill every hour. We’ve enough memories to live on for many years to come.”

Helen left the salad she was preparing for their lunch and went to the window to watch him as he went out into the garden. She saw him stand and look at the yellow wood tree. She guessed his thoughts. Robert was almost 75 years old. The tree was a little younger than Robert. Like Robert, it had never ailed. He would be wondering if the tree was showing signs of old age, in which case …

But Robert was still young at heart. There were times when she found it difficult to keep up with him, mentally or physically, but in spite of this, she shared his enthusiasm for life. She saw him reach up and pull down a branch of the yellow wood and examine it closely. He picked off a piece of the branch and turned, walking back towards the house again.

“Look love,” he cried as he entered the kitchen, “There is some new growth after all.'' He held out the twig with its cluster of tender green leaves for Helen to see.''

“You’re right,” she said, smiling happily. “It’s still young and vigorous, just like us. By the way,” she added, “The travel agent phoned this morning to confirm our trip to Antarctica next week. You see, we still have plenty of life left. Just like the yellow wood.”



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