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Thanksgiving Branches: a tale on the Four Last Things

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

This is a story of part truth, part imagination…

When I was a small child, I would enjoy sitting under a large tree in my Grandmother’s backyard.

It was a fine tree for leaning against. I enjoyed it as a very comfortable and private place for looking up at the clouds and listening to the drone of airplanes.

As night fell, I would gaze trough the tree up at the stars.

I sometimes thought I heard the tree talking with its branches; I’d stay very still, listening to this conversation:

"Someday soon," the tree said, "autumn will come, and all of you branches will fall from me and die.” With this came a general rustling and murmuring of surprise, anger and disbelief.

The tree waited patiently for the noise to subside.

"After you fall,” it continued, “people will come out and gather you up. Then you will either be used for tinder in the fireplace, or proudly displayed in places of honor at their Thanksgiving Table. The choice is yours. You must grow beautiful, filled with flowers, if you wish them to share with you their homes and lives."

Now, with this sobering news, the branches grew very afraid, wondering what it would be like one day when they would fall from the tree. Beginning with one and moving through the lot, they began to weep.

"I don't want to be separated from the tree!" cried one aloud, while another was heard to whisper harshly and with disdain: “Who cares about decorating peoples’ homes?”

But the tree was compassionate (if insistent on the importance of their cooperation), and let the branches work things out on their own. One by one, each branch was given the choice to think things through carefully. And one by one, they came to their own decisions about their destiny the tree had predicted.

Silently, and out of fear, one branch vowed simply not to grow at all. The time came for it to fall to the ground, and indeed it did. There it looked very small, not much larger than a twig, if perhaps a bit stubbier than before.

Another branch angrily refused to sprout any blooms. Without a purpose, it grew wherever the winds blew, twisting and turning until it became gnarled and unsightly. Its wish also came true.

A third branch could not decide what it wanted. Towards the end of its life, it grew unevenly, suddenly sprouting in two, then three directions at once.

A fourth branch thought it a splendid idea to grow as the tree suggested, and it developed into a beautiful branch filled with a rich and heady bouquet of delightful blossoms.

And so it went: each branch deciding in part and over time how it would grow. Finally, as the tree had predicted, autumn came, and with the change of seasons, the branches began to fall, one by one, to the ground, their fate determined now that they were forever separated from the tree.

It was also about this time, I heard my grandmother call me: "Grandson, it's time to pick up the branches in the backyard."

I shook my head to clear it of the voices I’d imagined hearing, and left my place under the tree to begin gathering the branches up, taking them in piles to Grandmother to sort through one by one.

"This branch is too short to be of any use,” Grandmother sighed. “Here,” she instructed me, “throw it into the fireplace.”

"And look at how this branch has grown to be so gnarled and unshapely. I just don’t see how we can use this one either.”

"Here, too, I guess this one isn't exactly what we are looking for, but perhaps we can break off this part where it splits here”—(I heard a loud “snap!)—“and save what remains.”

Then grandmother gave a squeal of delight. "Oh!! Now, this branch…” she held it out admiringly, offering me an opportunity to examine it as well--“this is the kind we have been looking for! See how beautiful it is, full-figured and filled with a bouquet of blossoms. It will make a splendid centerpiece for our Thanksgiving Table."

“It is pretty,” I concurred. “Now, Grandmother, may I begin to set the table?”

And so it came to pass. The family gathered around the Thanksgiving Table, wonderfully warm and festive, made more joyous by a decorous display of flowers and branches lovingly arranged.

And those branches that had been selected for tinder warmed the house with the glowing heat of their smoldering ashes.

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