There’s nothing like gnarled old tree roots to inspire the imagination—especially if you happen to be about three years old. And one morning in “Our Secret Place,” my kids found the twistiest, knottiest, most ancient looking tree roots you could hope for.
“Our Secret Place” was a spot along a lake at a local college campus that we liked to visit in a town where we used to live. Most of the lake had steep banks overgrown with thick tufts of grass to create little overhanging cliffs, and dense bushes and reeds and trees crowding right to the water’s edge. But there was one spot with a clear patch of rocky sand that sloped gently down to the water so that even little people could easily crouch down right where the water lapped the shore, there to find colorful stones, float sticks, and even, sometimes, spot minnows.
The wee bit of beach was surrounded by trees and brush creating a feeling of hiddenness, making for a perfect Secret Place. At the time we had three kids, the girls aged 3 and 2 and their brother who was still on the south side of his first birthday. The girls loved going to Our Secret Place to “fish”—with sticks or willow branches draped in the water—fun, but ineffective; we never caught a fish with our bait of grass and cat tails (thankfully). And they would spend afternoons picking flowers, collecting pine cones, throwing rocks in the water, and even wading when the weather permitted. Meanwhile their brother would roll around on a blanket spread on the grass enjoying the wonder of acorns and bird song. Then we would all gathered together on the blanket for a picnic snack at the conclusion of our outings before heading home.
And one morning while exploring around Our Secret Place, the girls came across their tree of splendor, with its mass of gnarled roots and proliferation of knotty hollows. It was a weathered, intriguing wonder of a tree that looked like it had been growing in that spot ever since the Flood, getting a little twistier and a little more wizardly with each passing season.
The girls spent hours playing among the roots, moving little acorn people to and fro over ridges of bark and under arches of root and even dropping acorns and sticks to disappear into mysterious hollows leading into dark recesses whose ends could not be seen. The girls decided these might just be tunnels leading into fairy land, and thus christened the venerable old wood as “The Fairy Tree.”
I was talking to my Mom on the phone the next day and telling her all about the girls’ adventures and their fun with The Fairy Tree when my Mom suggested: “Wouldn’t it be fun if the fairies left a surprise for them at their Fairy Tree?”
“Well, yeah,” I agreed, “but it’s on campus; I don’t know how I could swing that.”
“Oh, it would be easy,” Mom said. “You bring a diaper bag, don’t you?”
“Just get the surprises ready and keep them in the diaper bag. Hide them in the tree when the girls aren’t looking and then they can find them.”
My childhood was full of surprises like that, and I always loved them, so I decided I’d give it a try.
And a few days later I got a helping hand: a package from my Mom arrived in the mail containing bandannas that were perfect for bundling up little fairy surprises. After our telephone conversation, Mom had decided to take a look in her craft room to see what she had that might work. And talk about magical places, Mom’s craft room is an Aladdin’s cave of creative treasures, gathered one by one, here and there, over the years, and stored up for the time when that exact doohickey might be just the thing that’s needed. And among her storehouse of treasures she found the perfect packaging for fairy surprises.
I filled the bandannas with appropriate fairy folderol and tied them up with yarn, along with tags containing notes from the fairies. I stowed the packages in the diaper bag, and when next we arrived at Our Secret Place, I tucked the fairy bundles among the tree roots while the girls were busy trying to catch minnows. When the girls turned their attention to The Fairy Tree, they were delighted!
Then began a fun tradition of many surprises from the fairies, and we began leaving notes for the fairies at the end of our visits, to say thank you and wish them well. Mom continued to help, sewing little bags and sending other things to use in the fairy commerce.
The fun continued until we moved and had to leave Our Secret Place and The Fairy Tree behind. Fortunately, the fairies gave me their e-mail address before we moved so that we’d be able to tell them where our new house was and they could come visit us there once we got settled in.
Then began a busy time with packing up one house and unpacking in another. Until one morning in our new house, 500 miles removed from The Fairy Tree, I opened a new bottle of aspirin. When I pulled out the cotton balls from the top of the aspirin bottle, the girls asked if they could have them for a craft. I gave them the cotton balls and was happy to have them quietly occupied as I got to work on the day’s chores.
A few hours later, they proudly showed me what they had created: little fairy beds on the windowsills made from cardboard and scraps of material, complete with pillows made from the aspirin bottle cotton balls.
“Do you think the fairies will like them?” the girls asked.
“Absolutely!” I told them. “Those are beautiful beds! The fairies will love them!”
“Now they’ll definitely come to visit us!” the girls said.
Daddy was not prepared for a fairy visit.
“Well,” I said, “I’m sure they’ll come sometime, but I haven’t had a chance to e-mail them yet, so I don’t think it will be today.”
“Don’t worry, Dad,” the girls told me. “We know the truth.”
“Oh you do?” I asked.
“Yeah,” they said. “Fairies don’t really use e-mail, anyway, so it doesn’t matter that you didn’t e-mail them yet. They’ll still come.”
I was afraid of the crushing disappointment looming on the horizon, but didn’t see how we could fit a trip to the store in around meals and naps and unpacking. It was looking grim, when . . .
A box arrived in the mail! From Grandma! And it was full of Play-Doh and markers and paper and surprises for the kids, intended to keep them busy while I was working on setting-up the new house. Yes! Totally out of the blue, fairy surprises galore had been delivered right to my door at the very moment I needed them. Cinderella never had it so good. Turns out my kids are blessed to have their very own real-life Fairy Godmother Grandma! She even sends them gowns for the ball (well, Easter dresses every year, but those dresses get more twirling than any ballroom dancing gown has ever seen!) That evening after the kids were asleep we were able to have our first visit from the fairies in our new house.
The moral of the story is: it’s great to have a Momma (or Grandmomma) that loves you!
Which may be why on Calvary Jesus gave us Mary to be our Mother. Jn 19, 25-27. We’ve all got a Mother who loves us. Thank Jesus for her, and stay close to her! Talk to her often, and be ready for the help and wonderful surprises she’s sure to send your way!
Copyright 2016 Jake Frost
Image/Art Work: Author: Michael Hoelzl; Title/description: durch Hochwasser (des Flusses) wurde der Baum unterspült und die Wurzel teilweise freigelegt; da der Grundwasserspiegel hoch ist, lebt der Baum weiter; Date: 2010; from commons.wikimedia.org; work has been released into the public domain.
About the Author
Jake Frost is an attorney, husband, and father of four grade-school aged kids. He’s the author of five books: Catholic Dad: (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood; Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood; From Dust to Stars: Poems by Jake Frost; Victory! Poems by Jake Frost; and a children’s book he also illustrated called The Happy Jar.