An Old Tree Growing Stronger: The Thrill of Discovering My Younger Self

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

Walking across campus with my college sweetheart brings back many memories.

Outside the chapel, a tree stopped my in my tracks.

“This is the one!” I exclaimed.

I recognized the branches, remembered climbing into them as a college senior.

I rushed home to look at the yearbook picture again.

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

Do you see what I see? The same tree at nearly the same time of year,

45 years later.

That young woman has no idea she will be so excited, 45 years later, to find this tree.


Writing Prompt

 Did you carve your initials into a tree when you were young? Make a mark some other way? In wet concrete? Wet paint?

Do you have a special tree like the one above? What feelings do you have as you rediscover the old place?

Bonus: Here’s John Prine singing about Old Trees just growing stronger.

I remember listening to this song as a young mother wondering what old age would be like.

How about you? Say hello in the comment section below!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on April 29, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Lovely shot of a magical tree and wonderful memories to savor so close at hand.

    Husband Cliff and I have no special tree except the family tree we have engendered. He also says, “You are too cute to be a Mennonite back then.”

    I will check back later to read nostalgic bits from other commenters. 😉

    • shirleyhs on April 29, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Family tree, of course! I didn’t think of that one.

      Tell Cliff that he clearly loves to flirt. I would have loved to see him flirt with YOU when you were “plain” Miss Longenecker.

      He found his Mennonite girl just in time. Things were achangin’ by 1970.

      You are always welcome here. Thanks for starting the conversation.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on April 29, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Shirley — Look at you. Just look at YOU finding the same tree 45-years later. I betcha any amount of money that the wise young tree knew — even then — who you’d grow into 45 years later. Trees are magical like that [or at least I’d like to think so]!

    I’ve never carved my initials into a tree, but I do have a favorite grove of trees in the Highlands of Scotland. This particular grove has a totally unaccounted for natural part (like a part in one’s hair). I can transport myself there [in my mind’s eye] in a nano-second if/when the need arises. [Like yesterday when I was at the dentist office waiting for the Novocain to kick in before having a crown repaired]…

  3. shirleyhs on April 29, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Hard telling what a tree might know, Laurie, but it certainly was fun to find it. I decided not to try sitting in those branches again for a retake. That was the era of “informal” and “creative” yearbook pictures.

    Having a “happy place” to go to in the dentist’s office is always a good thing. And a grove of Scottish trees sounds like a perfect spot to visit — in person, and then again in the mind.

    Hope all your pearly whites are back in shape and the trees in your mind are still in your heart.

  4. Merril Smith on April 30, 2015 at 8:37 am

    I love the post–and the comments above, especially Marian’s about the family tree (and husband’s remarks). 🙂

    I love your photos and the memories. And, I’ve always loved that John Prine song. It’s one of my husband’s favorites, too.

    I never marked a tree, and I don’t have a special one, although I do love the old oak in our backyard. It’s well over 100 years old, so I bet it could tell some stories.

    • shirleyhs on April 30, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Glad to find another John Prine fan, Merril. Do you have the old LP with the picture of John and the straw bales? That’s the one I remember.

      Thanks for stopping by. Having a 100-year-old tree in your back yard is a link between you, the land, and its history.

      How appropriate, given your love of history.

  5. Susan Miller on April 30, 2015 at 9:50 am

    When I was 10 and 11 I would sit in the maple tree in my backyard while memorizing Bible verses for Bible Memory Camp. Last photo I have of it is of my daughters climbing in it when we visited my mother.

    • shirleyhs on April 30, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Susan, thanks so much for giving us this Magical Memoir Moment of your own. Did you follow the link from the email you got this morning? I’m trying to see how the new connections between email and blog are working.

      In any case, I love the visual image of a lovely young girl perched in a tree. “Thy word have I hid in my heart!”

  6. melodie davis on April 30, 2015 at 10:19 am

    My parents marked a tree in their woods with V.M + B.M. (yeah I know, what initials!) and years later we added SPD + MMD. I will have to dig up that photo.

    But your tree, amazing!! And the colors in that shot are just really special. I’m pondering hunting up the place where my “creative senior” photo was shot. Loving this.

  7. Sue Byler on April 30, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Not a special tree in my memory but the woods on our family farm holds many memories. The trips to the woods with our mother to dig up the rich soil she used in potting her plants; or gather her favorite wild tea that grew in that woods. In the winter the small pond in the woods would provide ice and three of us younger siblings would take a container on our sled to “harvest” enough ice for Mom to use to make a batch of home-made ice cream in the hand-turned steel can inside the wooden bucket and the crushed ice mixed with salt would do the job of turning that milk and cream from our cows into the most delicious treat one can imagine.
    I enjoy your posts and the memories they invoke in me.
    Thank you Shirley.

    • shirleyhs on April 30, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Oh Sue, this set of memories coincides with so many of mine! If you read BLUSH, you will remember that I talked about taking iced mint tea to the fields in big aluminum kettles. We got that tea from cutting it on the banks of the little creek that flowed through our woods on the farm. And we also made our own DELICIOUS ice cream, but only in the summer. Must have gotten the ice at the locker, where our beef was stored.

      Thanks so much for finding this blog post, Sue. I think you followed the link from your email today? If so, thanks so much. I enjoy getting feedback from the people who are now invited to share on the blog.

  8. Joan on April 30, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Shirley, What wonderful photos and memories. I love that you can just go down the street and find that tree. Bill and I need to travel up north to Vermont to find the special places that brought us together. There isn’t a tree but there are many, many places, and people too. Whenever we plan a trip up there, we’re always excited to revisit those places.

    • shirleyhs on April 30, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Hi Joan! It is a real treat to enjoy the blessings of springtime in “the landscape of love,” as I called it in my last post.

      But if I didn’t live here, I would enjoy the trip and the memories of a different landscape of love.

      I’m glad you and Bill are thinking of doing this again. We need to stir the embers from time to time, and nothing makes us feel younger than holding hands in “our” landscape.

  9. Kathleen Pooler on April 30, 2015 at 11:53 am

    What a delightful memory, Shirley and to have a picture of the very tree that holds so many special events is extra delightful! Beautiful photo of you!Trees have always fascinated me and I tend to develop emotional bonds with them. I remember staring at the apple tree outside my childhood bedroom. When the huge maple tree in front of my childhood home became diseased and had to be cut down, I felt so sad. I still miss that tree and I suppose all the memories of family gatherings underneath it. Then there was the weeping willow tree that sealed the deal for me in purchasing my first home as a single parent. Lots of happy memories of picnics with my kids and their friends under that tree. Wow, I didn’t realize until I started this comment how many memories are related to trees. Thanks for prompting my own trip down memory lane. Lovely post and conversation here!

  10. shirleyhs on April 30, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    I can imagine little Kathleen, gazing out at the blooms on her apple tree in the springtime. And the loss of any tree, especially an old, familiar, one , is sad.

    The weeping willow is my very favorite tree. We had several in the meadow on “the home place.”

    I think trees have wound their roots around many hearts. Thanks for sharing your memories with us!

  11. Marylin Warner on May 1, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Shirley, this tree evokes so many memories. There’s an ash tree in my grandparents’ back yard that has a handmade beaded bracelet buried at the base. I was 11, and the parents of a girl in my class were suddenly killed in a car accident. I made the gift to give to her when she came back to school after staying with her aunt until after the funeral. But she never returned.
    We couldn’t find out exactly where she was living, and I didn’t want anyone else to have the bracelet. I did the only thing I could do as an 11-year-old girl: I dug a hole with a spoon, said a prayer and a quiet message to the girl I hadn’t known well but felt so sorry for, and then I covered it with soil, patted it down, and never told anyone.

    • shirleyhs on May 1, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Marylin, what a piercing story. Very moving.

      I can see you writing a young adult novel that ends with this scene. Or a memoir that brings you back again to this tree to unravel the mystery of that relationship and the role it has played in your life. You caught me thinking like a writer!

      Thank you for connecting again. I want to go check in on your site now.

  12. Gwen Stamm on May 1, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Shirley, I enjoyed your “old tree” story and encountering it again 45 years later–wonderful photos, along with the younger you! (Plus the John Prine song.) By now I have done a “180” when it comes to truly appreciating trees. Growing up living in the upstairs of my grandparents’ home on the farm with our family, I took for granted the number of trees just right outside the house, including several fruit trees: a big cherry tree, pear tree, apple tree, and a crab apple tree. My siblings and I especially liked eating the freshly-ripe fruit every year, before some of it was canned or frozen. We kids learned real fast how sour the crab apples were, and that became a sort of game, to see who could be the “toughest” and eat those without giving away in our facial expressions how sour they were!

  13. shirleyhs on May 1, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    You have some great farm stories, Gwenn, and that almost always means tree stories also. Thanks for your comment here and for the ones you have left on the I Grew Up Country FB page.

    If you copy these into a document, you have the beginnings of your own memoir. But even if you don’t you have stimulated your memory to benefit you and others here. Thank you.

    Did your fruit have lots of worms in it? Or did your parents know how to keep them away?

    • Gwen Stamm on May 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Your stories have brought some memories to the surface. I don’t remember how seriously my parents would’ve tried to keep the worms from the fruit. And o-o-o-o, we’d encounter those, too! But I believe some years those trees were sprayed, and back in those days no one was very conscientious as to how toxic this was to the environment. I didn’t hear talk of that sort of concern in “grown-up” conversations! It seems the farmers just did what all the others were doing, at least around where we’d lived.

  14. shirleyhs on May 1, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Yes, I remember watching news reels in school brought to us by some corporation — Dow Chemical?? And the slogan was “better living through chemistry.” Nobody was aware of the harm we were doing to the environment. Except Rachel Carson and a few others. I was in high school when her book came out. I was a college grad when DDT was banned.

  15. Sharon Lippincott on May 1, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    I’ve always had a soft spot for trees. My preschool swing hung in a weeping willow that also shaded my sandbox. That tree is on the cover of my Albuquerque Years memoir. Pine trees all around were a hallmark of older girlhood. Their bark seemed like a jigsaw puzzle I could never solve and their sap was my favorite gum. We planted trees by the dozen in our desert home of Richland, WA, along the banks of the Columbia. In Pittsburgh we have an ancient oak behind our home that was a sapling when George Washington marched by with his troops just before the Revolution began. Other huge oaks grace our woods, but that’s the one I’ll miss the most when we move to Austin where I hope we’ll have a magnificent live oak. One that even my old body can climb on.

    Carving initials? God made aspen trees specifically for that purpose. I carved my initials a few times until the time my father caught me carving them on a tree near a cabin where we were guests. He read me the riot act for defacing our host’s property. He may have confiscated my knife! I think that was the last time I ever carved a tree.

  16. Sherrey Meyer on May 1, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Shirley, what a lovely set of memories a special tree holds for special you! Trees played big roles in my life but none so romantic as yours. Like many others there were large trees, flowering trees, and now a mini-forest of trees.

    As a young girl, a favorite pasttime was lying under the huge sycamore in our front yard and watching to see how the sun would filter through the branches. No initials carved anywhere but a tree on my college campus had a bench under it where I sat many afternoons with a young Greek man attending school there and dreamed of possibilities not to come. Fast forward, a Japanese dogwood given to me on a Mother’s day by husband and son left behind when we moved. A sad day. But now in our hopefully final home, a mini-forest of 28 or so old growth Doug firs, some cedars, natural dogwoods and more. Heaven here on earth! Perhaps Bob and I should go out and carve our initials on one of them before it’s too late!

    Love reading your memories–they definitely put me to thinking back.

  17. Elaine Mansfield on May 5, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    So lovely, Shirley. Thank you. A beautiful tree and beautiful young woman. Neither have changed that much. About fifteen years ago, I went looking for the catalpa trees on my Grandparent’s farm in Missouri. The farmhouse was gone, but the trees were still there. Vic and I shared memories of Cornell where we met. Since I live only half an hour from Ithaca, we visited our old haunting grounds often. Always filled with sweetness and longing.

  18. shirleyhs on May 5, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Catalpa trees, Elaine, I never heard of them. I had to look up an image. They are beautiful blooming trees. I can see why you would remember them, and I’m glad they remain even after the farm is gone.

    “Sweetness and longing” are two good words for the way we feel as we walk through the landscape of love and memory. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on the award for your memoir!!

    • Elaine Mansfield on May 7, 2015 at 11:24 am

      I have two catalpa trees on my land, planted in honor of my grandparents. They leaf late and flower a little later than most flowering trees, but it looks like they survived the harsh winter. We all did.

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