From the Top of the Tree

Dandelions sparkled on the emerald grass, trees gathered shade beneath their branches, and lilacs spread perfume over the hot summer day. Father was in the meadow tending the fruit trees, and mother sang as she set her clothes to the wind. Resting in the crook of the elm’s strong arms, I watched over the twins at play. My eye, however, wandered toward the lane and longed for uncharted trails.

Then, something moved along the shadow line cast by the rails of our fence. I sat up and squinted, straining to see the first glimpse of our expected visitor. Like a sentinel, I shouted a warning. “Aunt Lillian is coming, Mother!”

She froze with a clothespin in her mouth and folded sheet in her hands, then turned to where I pointed. “Come down from there now, Em!” she called. “Greet your aunt in a ladylike fashion.”

I swung down from the tree and smoothed my clothes, then gathered the twins and brushed their hair with my hands. When my aunt had climbed out of her car, she gave us hugs and kisses, then turned toward my mother and father, anxious to catch up on all the news.

It was not until the following day that I had an opportunity to talk with Aunt Lillian. She sought me out as I folded clothes in the sun.

“Busy at it, huh, Em?” she asked with an easy smile.

“There’s always something to do,” I sighed.

“Here, I’ll help you,” she offered as she took an apron from the pile.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the sun shine on her hair and marveled at how much she looked like my mother. She was younger, but their features were much the same. Yet, there was an air of excitement about her to be sure, that my mother did not have, and she smiled often as though she knew a happy secret. I wanted to share that happiness if I could.

“Did you like being a missionary?”

“I loved it, Em,” she replied sincerely. She looked at me with sparkling eyes that seemed to see beyond where they looked. “There’s so much to do though … I almost regret that it’s over. Still, my call was only for eighteen months so it was time to come home.”

“What’s it like?” I asked eagerly. “I mean, it must have been very exciting.”

Aunt Lillian smiled, then touched my arm with a gentle hand. “During the nights in Central America you can sometimes hear jungle noises. The banks of the rivers are covered with animal tracks, and where there was a path only a few months ago, the tangled growth soon gobbles it up again.” Her eyes held a dreamy, faraway look, and a minute passed before she continued. “The people are kind and uncomplicated—much the same as they are everywhere. They love their families, plant crops, wash clothes. They fight disease and pray.”

“The same?” I pleaded disappointedly.

“Certainly.” She laughed softly. “Oh, I see, you think things there are different and fascinating. Well, I suppose they are in a way. They don’t have television, cars, and things like that as much as we do. But day to day, things are really not so very different. The children ask the same questions you are asking.”

“But being a welfare missionary was more exciting than it is living here, wasn’t it?” I insisted.

Aunt Lillian smiled. “Doing the Lord’s work is always exciting wherever you are,” she answered. Then she asked, “Does being a missionary appeal to you?”

“Oh, yes! More than staying here,” I replied. “Mother washes clothes on Monday, irons on Tuesday, cooks meals every day. And it’s all so boring! I don’t think I want to get married and have children when I grow up. I want to travel and do different things like you’ve done.”

My aunt nodded and moved the folded clothes to one side, then sat on the wooden bench. “I know exactly how you feel, Em,” she confessed. “When I was a girl, I climbed trees too. It was my way of getting a better view of things. Your mother was always the more domestic one.”

“Yes, she’s told me.”

“But to her, those things aren’t boring. They’re her life and they’re very important. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be exactly like her. Wouldn’t it be awful if we all did the same thing? Besides, your mother and father allow you to be as you are, don’t they?”

I nodded. “Mother doesn’t really like me climbing trees very much.”

Aunt Lillian laughed. “My mother didn’t either,” she said. “But she didn’t stop me any more than your mother stops you. I think,” my aunt continued, glancing toward the house, “that the Lord shapes our lives. And your parents are allowing Him to shape yours. In good time, you’ll get tired of climbing trees, then you’ll stop.”

“When did you stop climbing them?”

“When I had seen all there was to see from up there. Then I followed where my heart would lead. I was asked if I’d like to go on a mission. Now, I’m home again and hope to marry and have children someday. But there are many other things I still want to do too.”

“Oh, Aunt Lillian,” I gasped. “I can’t imagine you marrying and having children! You’ve had such an exciting life!”

“Honey,” she said with a curious smile, “you can only see the side you live with. Think of it from my point of view. I’ve helped other people with their children and taught them and tended them when they were sick. But they were other women’s children. As much as you envy me and what I did, I sometimes envy your mother’s contentment with her family. Now I want one of my own. Your mother has represented a family with roots ever since our parents died, and I’ve always drawn strength from her. Yes, I’m like a branch. I’ve reached and extended myself, doing what I was called to do, but I never let go of the root.”

“I think I’d like to be a branch too,” I replied.

“You may well be,” she replied softly. “But both are important, for it takes many people doing many different things to accomplish all we are meant to do. We all have a place and are loved by our Heavenly Father.”

“Do you think I’ll ever find my place?” I wondered. “Or will I always just see things from the top of a tree?”

“The Lord will lead you to your place, honey,” she said with a brilliant smile. “And I know you’ll be content there. Then you’ll do your best, and that’s the important thing, you know.”

“I ask too many questions, don’t I?”

“A question is the only way to an answer,” she replied. Then she touched my hair and smiled. “Now suppose we take the clothes indoors for your mother.”

I walked beside my aunt and watched her from the corner of my eye. She looked so like my mother that it was hard to believe they could be so different.

Then, as we entered the kitchen, I could smell the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked pies, pies that only my mother could bake. With a smile, I knew my Aunt was right. The important thing—no matter what we do—is to do our best and find contentment in doing it. Since both my mother and my aunt do that, maybe they really aren’t so different after all.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer