The Tree

There was a picture of an oak tree that hung in the small cabin I knew as home in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. There wasn’t much else, and decorations like art were considered a luxury. But there it hung. It had always been there – at least as long as I could remember, so to Little Kid me that was the same thing.

As an undiagnosed dyslexic, everyone (including me) thought I was just plain dumb. Reading was my nightmare, and yet I could read the sentence on the picture. I often asked my grandfather what it meant. He’d laugh and say if kept my nose clean and my rear tired I’d understand one day. I just figured that meant he didn’t know either.

Growing up in that little corner of the world, I did learn about hard work. There was always something to be done on the farm. There were always sacrifices to be made. Money was tight, but family and community bonds were tighter. We got by. The rhythms of farm life imbedded in my soul. Planting, harvesting, canning, slaughtering, gathering each came with their respective season. Nobody had a lot, but we shared what we had.

Then my grandfather died at time when my teenage self needed him most. I thought how he had never explained what the picture hanging on the wall meant. Life went on. We moved to South Georgia. I missed him.

Not until my grownup self became the director of the food bank and had my own children did I remember the picture and the words. They came to me early one morning before anyone at my house was stirring. I’m pretty sure I said the words out loud. In an instant, all those memories came flooding back. It was at that moment I knew, I knew why Grandaddy couldn’t tell me. No one can tell you. Understanding comes from living – living the words, not just reading them. I had found my North Star and, at that moment, when I said the words, I heard my grandfather’s voice repeating them with me:

“A society grows great when it plants trees under whose shade it will never set.”


With gratitude for your support, 

Frank Richards, CEO