It is a known fact that one of the main reasons why I’m friends with Tommy Fuller is because of what’s in his backyard. I realize this paints me in somewhat of a bad light on the surface. In my defense, though, Tommy is not only aware of this, he’s fine with it. He figures it’s a trade off. One of the main reasons he’s friends with me is because he borrows my golf clubs.
It’s a good deal as far as I’m concerned. Tommy’s a great guy. Even better than that is the fact that he has an open door policy when it comes to his backyard. I can visit any time I like, even if he isn’t there. The kids are welcomed, too. Sometimes we even make an afternoon of it. They can jump on his trampoline, and I can climb his oak tree.
Tommy has one of the biggest back yards in town with THE nicest tree smack in the middle of it. Tall and full, and the limbs are spaced just far enough apart to let through the perfect amount of sunlight. Home to squirrels and robins and friendly bugs. It’s the sort of tree that belongs more in a Disneyland attraction than a redneck’s backyard.
The farm has been in the Fuller family for generations, and it’s one of the oldest in the area. Tommy’s grandfather and father were both raised there, as was he. When his mother passed away ten years ago, he moved in and got control of the property. And when the time comes, Tommy will pass the torch onto one of his sons. In the Fuller family, the circle never ends.
There aren’t many properties around here that carry charm like that anymore. Most of the farmers in town have sold their acres of fields and forest to developers, giving in to the promise of a life of comfort rather than sweat. Tommy won’t bow to that false promise. There will be no subdivisions on his land. Not because his principles are too strong or his faith too unwavering, but because of that tree.
Because it is quite literally a family one.
Look on the back side and you can see the faint outlines of his father’s pledge to his mother back when they were mere boyfriend and girlfriend. BF Loves KT, it says. Tommy says his mother and father would sit beneath that tree often during their courtship, resting in the shade of their love.
And on the other side are the marks Tommy carved to his own bride to be, pledged in wood on the night they became engaged.
In the upper reaches of the oak is a tree house that Tommy built for his boys. Though worn, it’s still in good shape. He sees his future grandchildren playing pirate there.
But the best part? The best part isn’t the tree, It’s the stone plaque beside it.
03 MAY 1901, it says.
According to Tommy, his great grandfather planted that tree himself on a calm spring afternoon. Dug the hole, gently placed the seedling inside, then covered and watered it. And after that he stuck his shovel in the ground and just smiled. Tommy remembers his grandfather saying that it was a strange smile, part sadness and part joy. The sort of smile a dying man wears. Tommy doesn’t know what was wrong with his great grandfather, just that he didn’t have much longer. And he didn’t. If you drove over to the church nearby you would see that the date of his death and the date the tree was planted are less than a month apart.
It’s amazing that something so small and fragile could grow into something so large and strong. But love is like that. Hope, too. That’s what I think about when I sit in that tree.
And I also think about this—on a calm spring afternoon more than a century ago, a dying man’s last act was to plant something he would never be able to see grow. He would never get to rest in its shade or climb its branches. He would never get to enjoy it, but he planted it anyway. Not for himself, but for those who would come afterward.
I like that idea.
According to some, there is no such thing as an unselfish act. But this comes close. And I think that for all the lofty goals the human spirit can strive to accomplish, this is the most noble—that we spend our days in pursuit of something that will outlive us. That we plant seeds destined to bless not only ourselves, but generations.