Laughter, Tears, and Our Teen Years

By McKennaugh Kelly

April makes us all think of spring, doesn’t it? And spring usually makes us think of gardens—and gardens make me think of my mother, who makes me think of anything eco. Okay, now you know where this article’s going.

In Pennsylvania, you can’t really plant until after May, or else your garden will be a big heap of poor little wilted, frosted plants. Even so, Mom gets all excited about growing things in March. Or February. My mom loves to plant things. Only problem is we don’t really have a working garden. And when you don’t have a garden, it’s sorta hard to plant anything. I mean, Mom will go out and buy 35 packets of seeds (organic ones, of course–she’s eco!) and not have anywhere to plant them. No kidding! She gets spring fever and somehow thinks a good garden will appear for her to put her seeds in. So, we have this giant box of expired seed in our cupboard. Whenever she does get around to planting, she plants around our oak tree. Do you know oak trees put out poison that kills plants? They do. So we pick the one tomato that the oak tree didn’t kill and thank God for the tiny bite we grew. Each year Mom says it will be better and something will grow (I mean 35 seed packets should grow something!) It’s like she’s insisting that the oak tree will show kindness to our seedlings after 11 years. This spring, we’re sick of our poor plants dying. We’re not in the city—far from it (we live on ten acres!!) so why don’t we clear a garden plot?

We live on a cliff. Well, almost.

Like the biggest hill you can imagine. A nightmare hill. That’s problem one. And to make matters worse, anything slightly flat is all wooded. And Mom’s a treehugger. My brothers are even bigger treehuggers than my Mom. And me? You can guess. Coming from a family that loves trees so much, I’m doomed to be the same. But my dad is different. He can hack a tree over without an ounce of feeling. At least when you put mom and dad together, they balance each other out, you know?

Anyway, finally we all broke down and decided this year we needed a garden. A real garden. We took to chopping some trees down, mostly shrubby ones. We cut them and burned them in a big heap. (Yeah, burning isn’t eco, but we refused to drag them a hundred yards to our brush pile and finally “Eco Mom” gave in, because she didn’t want to pull them all by herself.) We got the place all cleared, besides the big ones that we all silently knew had to come down, as well. Unless, of course you know of a new kind of tomato that came out and requires full shade.

So we sadly looked up at the over-a-hundred-feet-tall ash trees (four of them—oops, five, I forgot to count Mr. Ancient Oak Tree. We don’t feel too bad for him, after all he is a killer). Could we cut them down? Nevin, age eight, was heartbroken. Not to mention the rest of us. (Besides Dad who had a chainsaw in hand and a wonderful look of glee on his face.)

If we wanted a garden there, the trees would have to go, though. And we all agreed our awesome (sniffle) ash trees and not so awesome Mr. Ancient Oak Tree needed to be chopped.

But there was also the problem of the three thorn trees we were partial to. (I know, you’re thinking THORN TREES? WHAT NEXT?)

I said, “Let’s cut them, we need a garden.”

Nevin looks devastated.

You know how Dad looks.

And Mom says, “Okay, it’s time for a change, but I’m going to say goodbye to them and thank them for being such good trees.”

Now I’m feeling sad. I mean, come on, go tell a tree that you’re thankful that they were so good, then cut them down and throw them in a bonfire??? Not my idea of thankfulness. I told Mom that she could say goodbye, but I, for one, was staying inside. I didn’t need to go talk to a tree and apologize for killing it. It’s the same thing as going to your neighbor’s and saying, “You know what, you were a really good person, but I want the piece of ground you live on. I’m sorry–however, I’m gonna burn you up.”

So Mom and Nevin go out to tell the trees all their little sentimental tree things and later when I go out of the porch, the thorn trees are gone and burned. (Dad must have been jumping for joy!)

And so, maybe (just maybe) we’ll have a garden this year.

We plan to cut the huge ash trees this weekend.

We plan to, I remind you. But with my treehugging family, plans change.

Have a great April and may you not have to shed too many tears over thorn trees.


McKennaugh Kelley is fifteen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.

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