The Giving Tree

“And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy… the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.”  -Shel Silverstein from The Giving Tree

For my fourth birthday, I got a car track, a green cake, and a green book, The Giving Tree.  Because it was my birth night, my mom came back to tell me a bedtime story of when I was born:  “It was early Sunday morning.  I told your father, ‘Greg, I think it’s time to go to the hospital.’  He was so nervous, he cut himself shaving four times before we left for the hospital.”

Four Years Old!

“Mom,” I said, “you told me this story before.  can you read me my new book instead?”

She looked a little hurt and grabbed the book.  She began, “Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy.”  Mom read a page and then turned the book to show me the pictures.  I liked the drawing of the boy playing in the tree and eating all her apples.  And the boy and the tree playing hide and seek.  As she continued, she started to read quieter.  The boy took the tree’s branches and the tree was sad, but then the boy came back and the tree shook with joy.  Mom began to sniffle when the boy took the trunk.  By the end of the book, mom was openly crying. 

I began teaching at San Fernando High School in ’04.  I taught Steinbeck, Bradbury, and Shakespeare for a semester and then moved to the English as a Second Language department.  I taught a scripted program for two hour blocks to new kids from foreign lands.  We began with rote memorization.  “Where is the bathroom?  My name is Janeth.  What is your name?”   

I didn’t have to prepare lesson plans.  I had a teacher’s edition with prepared lesson plans.  I got to school fifteen minutes early to learn what I was teaching that day.  The kids had a textbook, workbooks, and small books with recorded readings to listen to. 

I augmented the lessons when I could.  The kids learned about integrity, citizenship, and Pat Tillman. 

A year into teaching them, their vocabularies had exploded.  Instead of memorizing sentences like, “My name is Eduardo, what is your name?;” they memorized sentences like, “Mr. Gutzman is my favorite teacher because he is smart, funny, and has integrity; plus, he is so handsome.”

The Friday morning before Christmas break started, fifteen minutes before school, I looked up the day’s lesson plan.  I was to read a green book to the students.  The Giving Tree.  I grabbed it from my box of books and thumbed through it.  I began by smiling at the drawings of the boy climbing the tree, remembering when my mom read it to me.  Then the boy got a girlfriend, and he was pretty selfish.  And then he left the tree alone, and she was sad.  Even though she shook with joy when the boy came back, he abused her.  He took her apples and then cut down her branches and trunk.  By the time I finished the book, I was crying and I understood my mom a little bit better.


The Giving Tree

The bell rang and the kids shuffled in.  We went through conjunction drills and over our spelling words.  The kids took a test.  After the test, there was fifteen minutes until the lunch bell rang.  I wouldn’t see them for two weeks and they were itching to go.  I explained, holding up a copy of the giving tree, “I’m supposed to read this book to you guys now, but it’s very sad and I would probably cry, so we can do something else.”

They whined and begged, “Pleeeassse Mr. Gutzman.  We will be so good and listen.  The Giving Tree looks like a nice book.”  I sat on my stool in the front of the room.  I read slowly, translating the unknown words into Spanish.  I read a page and then held the book up so they could see the pictures. 

After the boy got a girlfriend, I felt my voice choking.  I quit looking at the students when I showed them the pictures.  When the boy cut down the branches, the lunch bell rang.  None of the once eager students moved.  I continued.

Tears streamed as I finished the book and showed them the last picture, of the old man sitting on the stump.  I looked up. 

And the kids were crying.

I kept Janeth, Karina, and Eduardo for four semesters; from “Where is the bathroom?” to “I think I’ll try to go to UCLA because they have a good soccer team.”  After that last semester, we were all leaving.  Them to a ‘regular’ English class and me for law school.

On the last day they again begged me to read  The Giving Tree.  This time, they began to cry before I started the book.  I got about half way through the book when the bell for nutrition rang.  Nobody left.  I finished the book.  The students still didn’t leave.  I stood at the door and they formed a line.  They hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and gave me Mr. Gutzman’s book:  a copy of The Giving Tree where each student had written a letter to me:  “Usted es mi mejor maestro lo quiero mucho lo boy a extranar.”   “Mr. Gutzman I felt sad because you want to go to Minnesota.  I love you.” and “Mr. Gutzman I hope you feel good all the time.  You alway be a good teacher For that I love so much.  Don’t forget me.” and “Goodbye forever” (this last one was accompanied by a drawing of a crying girl).

One of the few pictures of me when I was teaching. I call this outfit, "Casual Weekday."

Today, I hear the first croaks and sighs from his room, his crib.  I walk back and stand over Zach.  His eyes open as slits and he blinks three, four times.  He opens his eyes wider and looks up at me, then at his mobile, then back at me.  He shakes with joy, so happy that he can hardly speak.  Then he squeals.  He hasn’t seen me for 45 minutes.  And his nap is over.

I don't know if I'm more excited or he is... but it's time to play again!

About Jimmy

The stories herein are about a sentimental 80s child who cried at every showing of ET (the sad part where he was lying in the wash) and his families, then and now. His wife, son, parents, and siblings play their parts well. They have their exits and their entrances. Sometimes their exits are sad, but not as sad as ET.
This entry was posted in fatherhood, Life, memoir, Nostalgia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Giving Tree

  1. Kerry Wester says:

    I love this Jimmy. You are not alone, I cry just reading the title.

  2. kristi gutzman says:

    You guys are not alone. I cry sometimes when I’m watching Little House on the Prairie.

    It’s a good thing you’re not a stay-at-home Dad, babe, or Zach would never get any sleep!
    But he sure does love seeing you walk in!

  3. Dianna says:

    Love this! What an amazing difference you made in the lives of those students.
    Great to tie in “Zach shaking with joy” with the story of the book!

  4. Maxi says:

    My heart is in an emotional tug-of-war, from crying over a tree to ear-to-ear grin at Zach.

  5. Thanks for the post recalling special moments in the past and present. Great picture of Zach … and you too, of course. Is that a bed in the classroom? Grin.

  6. Natalie says:

    Well done! You nailed it! Another book that makes us parents cry, “Love you Forever” — always grab your box of kleenex before you sit down to read it.

  7. Mom says:

    I also shake with joy when I see you. Wish it could be more often.

  8. Adrienne says:

    That your gentle, generous and expressive heart is going to find its way into the person your son will become is a gift to the next generation! This is just wonderful!

  9. I have this book too and read it to my students years ago. Just found it on the shelf in this room and now will reread and remember and enjoy this day. Blessings! Ellen

  10. FileSpnR says:

    I have a connection with this book, also.

  11. ethelthedean says:

    The Giving Tree is one of my family’s favorites – I have a distinct memory of sitting in bed leaning up against my mom, with my little sister on her other side, as she read to us from the book.

    It’s my go-to anytime I need to find a baby present. It’s the present that just keeps on giving! (Urg. That was pretty lame…but I’m sticking to it!)

  12. araspace says:

    Thanks for liking my post! This was a great one. It sounds like I’ve missed a classic – I don’t remember ever reading this book. I’ll have to find a copy!

  13. StillValerie says:

    Thank you Jimmy for visiting my blog and liking my post. I checked out your blog and was drawn to this post about The Giving Tree. I too really like this book and the wisdom it shares. I recently used the book as an introduction to a guided loving kindness meditation as I feel it conveys the essence of giving well. It also inspired me to write a post about giving and receiving, especially appropriate for this holiday season. You can check it out at Blessings for a joyous holiday season with your family!

  14. The Giving Tree book changed my life. I’ve read it hundreds of times growing up and I still cry as much as ever. Thanks for sharing this post. It brightened my day!

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