Awaiting the Beautiful
by Hannah Hubin, illustrated by Gigi Cowherd
Once upon a time, in a land not too far away (that is, depending upon where you are standing at the moment), an old, faded house sat at the very edge of an old and rather faded town. Can you see it? I will help you. It was the sort of house that was sided in a dusty yellow and adorned with blue shutters and small window boxes – you know, the sort of house that makes you love the people who live there before you have even met them. The front porch of the house faced the village and the back porch faced a set of rusty, abandoned railroad tracks. Can you see it better now? The tracks hadn’t been used in decades and half the townsfolk didn’t even know they existed. The other half simply didn’t care…that is, with one exception: the young girl who lived in the little yellow house.
Oh, how she loved these broken, overgrown slats, for they were her closest companions – steady and dependable as the rising sun. Each and every morning at the first whispering light of dawn, she would slip out her open window and walk along the tracks, watching the sunrise break through the dusty shadows. She would often sing to herself as she danced along, her deep blue eyes searching the slats for treasures along the tracks. She had thus far found exactly twenty-seven bottle caps, a small linen pouch, a chipped-yet-still-quite-lovable china doll, nine buttons (of varying sizes, shapes, and colors), a small silver bracelet, a far-too-dirty-to-be-used knife (but she didn’t care), a broken pocket watch, and an inkpen with a rusty tip.
All these beautiful treasures paled in comparison to the gift she discovered one morning. As she lightly stepped across the ties, her eyes caught upon something which seemed to dance in the sunrise. Reaching down to pry it loose, she grasped the fruit of her early-morning venture: a filthy, faded, and bent penny. A penny. She had never held in her hand money of her own – money which she could use in any way she pleased. It didn’t matter to her that there was very little she could please to do with a penny. She was elated at her find, and nothing in the world could steal her joy.
She ran back along the tracks, up the hill, across the back porch, in through the screen door (forgetting, of course, not to slam it as she passed), up the stairs, and into her bedroom. Out from under her bed she brought a small, ragged suitcase. Lifting the lid, she revealed the treasures of her life. She drew out the linen pouch and dropped the penny inside the bag.
The very next day, Mrs. Bradly glanced out her kitchen window only to see a young girl marching through the village with one hand in her mother’s and the other tightly clenching a linen bag. It was clear that she knew her mission well and was not to be distracted. It was not until her mother was measuring flour in the General Store that the coin was put to good use. Before entering the shop, the girl ran around to the back alleyway. Diligently searching the grass, she collected a small maple pod, which had fallen from the grand tree that stood behind the shop. She gently wrapped the seed in a scrap of brown cloth and stepped into the store.
Marching up to the counter, she promptly placed the dirty penny upon the smooth wooden surface and confidently stated, “I would like to buy one of your seeds.” She pulled back the cloth, revealing the small pod to the grey-haired shopkeeper. In the wake of the shopkeeper’s confused silence, her face turned ashen as she whispered, “A penny is enough, is it not?” A slight smile dawned on the old man’s face at the realization of this innocence long forgotten, and he gently dropped the bent penny into the register. Then, shaking her hand, he thanked the young girl for her business and – in a burst of inspiration – offered her a nickel as her change. Thinking it only appropriate to accept her “rightful return,” she dropped the nickel into her linen pouch, but her heart dwelled upon the seed.
Oh, how the young girl loved her seed. That evening, she planted it not too far from the railway tracks, in a soft mound of black soil. She patted and watered and encouraged the little seed along, always fearful that something or someone would come and disrupt the growth of her maple. She still walked along the tracks, every morning and every evening. And every time she ran passed the little seedling, she would kneel down close to the earth, and – holding her breathe – watch the plant for just a moment.
Both she and the tree grew. Through the years, the girl would sit below the small tree and read the tales that enthralled her heart. It was under the small sapling that she came upon the onces of many times, battled dragons, sailed stormy seas, unveiled hidden treasures, and collapsed into the ever after of happiness. As the young girl grew and matured, so did the tree. In its bark were carved the initials of her beau, and in its shade they were wed. The blue-eyed girl, no longer so young, inherited the faded yellow house from her parents. It was not long until the small home felt certain to collapse under the crashing footsteps and thundering laughter of children. It was in these afternoons that the young mother would shoo the children out of the house, where they would mount the branches of the strong, golden tree. Only then was the maple unveiled to be what it truly was: pirate ship, smuggler’s cave, castle turret, goblin’s lair.
The mighty maple held so many secrets and so much glory. Through the years, its seeds were strewn across the lawn and its sap transformed into a golden syrup. As the days passed and the children grew and moved away, the time came when her feet no longer wandered across the slats, and our heroine was laid to rest in the shade of the golden maple. Yet this tree was her life’s work, and it would not be forgotten so quickly. The tale of the maiden’s maple spread throughout the town and into the surrounding villages. The magnificent tree became a place of peace and reflection for the young and old alike. Initials were carved in the bark and swings strung around the branches, tunnels dug about the roots and fortresses built through the limbs.
The tree stood for years, strong and silent, until a heavy spring storm brought the mighty tree crashing to the earth. Slowly and surely, year upon year wore away the wood, and the ancient maple gradually transformed into the soil it was birthed from. The world did not notice. And so it lay, day after day, year after year.
And it is here that a curtain must fall upon this chapter of our story. Fifty years after the glorious maple fell upon the earth, a small boy journeyed to this ancient grave. Kneeling on the ground, he took up a handful of the rich soil and pressed it into a small jar. Carrying the jar home as if it were a vessel of gold, he placed it on his window sill. And there, in the silence of the setting sun, he planted a seed and awaited the beautiful.