Boys In The Trees

The tree began its life many years ago. No one knows for sure when.

One hundred, maybe one hundred and fifty years back (it’s hard to tell with trees without cutting them open), a mango seed landed on the ground here at the Mission and started growing. It wasn’t a big moment, and no one was here to see it. At the time the tree was just part of a dense uninhabited jungle, a tiny seedling among many, looking for its place in the sun.

Mango-SeedlingWhen Maxton Strong and his family arrived in 1948, their tractor sputtering through the typically quiet jungle air, the mango tree was already fully mature, bearing fruit, a valuable asset on the leased land the Strong family had come to claim. I’m told Pappa Strong used to pray beneath this tree every morning, asking God to bless his work. As the land was cleared and then cleared some more, the mango tree was spared time and again until it was one of the last original trees on the property, marking a boundary between the kitchen and the guest house.

And there it has stood, keeping watch through storms and sun, births and deaths, a quiet witness to the history of this place, our oldest living resident.

It was here when Auntie Violet arrived in 1953. She was sixteen years old then, come for training at the new agricultural mission. In time, the tree saw Violet get engaged, then stood helplessly by as her fiancé died from malaria. A few years later, the tree watched as Auntie Violet took over the small boys’ hostel and began her life’s work: raising more than one hundred boys over the next six decades.

Auntie Violet is now our oldest living human resident and we celebrated her 80th birthday yesterday. We sang to her at breakfast, a raucous rendition of “Happy Birthday” that ended with a riot of banging plates I’m sure the tree could hear outside. Violet is only the second person to reach that milestone on the Mission. The first being Pappa Strong himself who died back in 2003 at the age of 84.

And the mango tree, of course. We don’t know how old she is.

Auntie-Violets-80th

Orphan-PartyLater, we hosted a special tea in Violet’s honor, complete with games, cake, special food and drinks, songs, dances, presents and lots of friends. Some of Violet’s old hostel boys came to wish her well. Many more wrote words of thanks that were compiled into a special book. It was a party Auntie Violet described later as “My best birthday ever.” Which is saying something over such a long life.

But Violet’s big day was also marked by another milestone of sorts. With a crack and a thud, the old mango tree pulled from the earth and fell on its side. It was kind enough to miss the kitchen, falling harmlessly—in spite of its enormous size—into unused space. It wasn’t particularly storming or windy at the time. It was just time; her work was done.

Fallen-Tree-at-OrphanageI stood out amid the fallen branches this afternoon and I thought about the old mango tree and Auntie Violet. They have a lot in common, I think. Both have been fixtures here on the Mission for as long as anyone living can remember. And they’ve both been good mothers. They’ve been the solid centers of their abundant homes, their good fruit ripening year after year, their deep roots providing a stable place to grow for their many many children.

The tree will be cut up soon and then it will be gone. Nothing lasts forever. But as I stood in the shade of the once tall tree, I saw a few tiny seedlings starting to rise from the earth, looking for their place in the sun.

“What are you doing? Uncle John,” a voice called out.

It was Rajesh with some of the other small boys, and I called them in for pictures.  Seedlings of another sort, I thought, as the boys posed briefly on the lower branches before climbing higher and higher into the light.

I stood out amid the fallen branches this afternoon and I thought about the old mango tree and Auntie Violet. They have a lot in common, I think. Both have been fixtures here on the Mission for as long as anyone living can remember. And they’ve both been good mothers. They’ve been the solid centers of their abundant homes, their good fruit ripening year after year, their deep roots providing a stable place to grow for their many many children.

The tree will be cut up soon and then it will be gone. Nothing lasts forever. But as I stood in the shade of the once tall tree, I saw a few tiny seedlings starting to rise from the earth, looking for their place in the sun.

“What are you doing? Uncle John,” a voice called out.

It was Rajesh with some of the other small boys, and I called them in for pictures.  Seedlings of another sort, I thought, as the boys posed briefly on the lower branches before climbing higher and higher into the light.

This post is originally from www.johnmarshall.com

Orphan-Boy-in-Tree3

Orphan-Boy-in-Tree

Orphan-Childs-hand

Orphan-Boy-in-Tree_4

Orphan-Boys-in-Tree

Orphan-Kids-in-Tree3

Auntie-Violet-and-Tree3

Auntie-Violet-and-Tree

2016-10-21T12:09:25+00:00

About the Author:

John is a nine-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer and the author of the Random House release "Wide-Open World," a memoir about the six months he spent volunteering his way around the world with his family. Through his organization New Orphan Age, John now spends much of his creative time and talent working for orphan projects around the world. You can learn more about John at his website: www.JohnMarshall.com

Leave A Comment

*