ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

My Oak Tree

Updated on March 3, 2009

My Father

An oak tree grows slowly, rising gradually to a height of perhaps eighty feet, its stem ever so gradually swelling from a slender, flexible wand with smooth skin to a massive truck armored with thick, rough bark.

My father retired from the military and came home. For about half my life he had been aboard a ship for eleven months out of the year, but then he was home all the time. He had chosen this place to settle after World War II: the Great Lakes, with its forests and many opportunities for hunting and fishing. And now he was home to enjoy it all the time. Six months later he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

For the next twelve years he was in and out of the hospital, undergoing the beginnings of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, like a guinea pig for the doctors back in the sixties. They did not seem to know what they were doing. He lost his senses of taste and smell, his teeth, his hair, and at last, his strength and his voice. Only when his throat was swollen shut and he was forced to breathe through a tracheotomy tube did he quit smoking.

He smoked Velvet pipe tobacco hand rolled into Zig Zag papers. He was an expert. When I was a teenager all my friends admired his ability.

He got a job driving a school bus for kids with developmental disabilities. We didn't have a lot of money. It was 1963 and we were driving a 1951 Plymouth. The driver's side door was a little stubborn and made a barking noise when it was opened. One day he was picking us up from school. He reached for the door handle to get into the car, gave it a yank as was necessary to get the thing open, and the handle came off in his hand.

The Acorn

Beneath its massive parent, nestled in the moist spring earth, I found an acorn split by its own root. Fascinated by this new life, I brought it home. I was six or seven. My dad said if we planted it, it would become a great tree. I looked up at him and smiled.

He planted the acorn in soil from our garden in a Velvet tobacco can and set the can on the window sill beside his patriarchal throne in the living room. Through the summer it grew to be about four inches tall. As I played with my little sister on the living room floor, sometimes I would glance up at it as Dad sat in his chair, wreathed in bluish smoke. Once a day he would lift me up so that I could water our tree.

Planting the Tree

Beside our house was an old foundation where another house had once stood. Dad had turned it into a kind of rock garden, framed by roses, lilacs, day lillies and a mountain ash tree. We planted my oak tree in a place where it would have some room to grow, away from the other trees. It seemed so small. Just a twig with a couple of leaves. In the fall, when the leaves fell off, it looked like a little dead twig, and I feared it would never come back to life, that the shock of transplantation had been too much for it.

But in the spring it sprouted new leaves and new growth. Soon it had four leaves and stood six inches tall. I was proud, and I was careful when I played, that I should not trample it. Years went by, and it only grew and inch or so each year. I thought I would be an old man before it began to look like a real tree.

A Tree Grows

At school, I found things difficult. I was different in a place intolerant of difference. I was in many fights because I was quick to resort to my fists, taking insults seriously instead of laughing them off. As a result I became a means for others to vent their frustration, an easy target.

About when I did, the oak tree had a couple of growth spurts, shooting up a foot or more each year.

I turned to music to soothe myself and was in some way successful. Music gave me the sense of worth I lacked with my peers, and it gave me an avenue of escape. I would take up music in college. College became the light at the end of my tunnel and I put all my energies toward getting there.

Dad and I locked horns on more than one occasion and about more then one issue. In many ways he was bigoted and closed-minded, and in 1968 I was inclined to be more liberal. He would have much preferred me to pursue an engineering scholarship from General Motors, but I wanted to play music. It was all I wanted to do.

The oak tree had grown taller than me by then, and its branches spread, and it cast its bit of shade upon the grass like a grown tree. Its trunk was almost too thick for me to get my hand around it.

Along the way, puberty struck me like a plank up alongside the head. I was a mess. I am lucky I lived through it. I noticed that along about that time my oak tree flowered and produced its first acorn.

As Dad's condition worsened, things got tougher around my house. For a while he was a violent disciplinarian, but his strength failed him and he had to relinquish that role and allow us to find our own success or ruination. He took up permanent residence on the fold out couch in the living room, his sick bed, where he could see the TV. He was fed through a latex tube in his belly and he breathed through a stainless steel tube. Mom prepared his liquid food and cared for him around the clock.

Shortly I graduated from high school and went off to college two hundred miles south in Eau Claire. At the end of my freshman year, Dad died. I had seen him once during the year. He had given me his bridge coat. I took a hat insignia from one of his uniforms to remember him by.

That was my last summer at home. I worked for my friend's dad, who was a carpenter. We built a house. Summers after that I stayed down in Eau Claire and got jobs there. After my third year in school I dropped out and moved to Boston. I had planned to go to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but those plans fell through. Instead I did various day jobs and played music around the city.

After a few years I went home to visit my mom. She had mentioned that my brother-in-law had built her a garage where the old foundation used to be next to our house. When I arrived, I saw that the garage was a lot bigger than I imagined it would be. I said hello to Mom, put down my bag and went out the back door to see the back of the garage where my oak tree had been. Mom followed.

"We tried to save it," said Mom, waiting for my reaction.

I smiled. "With winters like you have up here, you need a garage," I said. And I gave her a hug.

She pointed out the other oak trees that Dad and I had planted, but of course it wasn't the same as that first one. But perhaps when I am gone, someone will read this and imagine our oak tree. And then it will live in their minds as it did in mine, all my life.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      Shel Silverstein's work is great. Yes, indeed, grandkids are something to look forward to.

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 

      9 years ago

      This is such a touching story. That acorn that meant more than just something growing out of a hole in the ground is a very powerful image. I do hope that one day you will get to plant one with your grandkids!

      And the Giving Tree is one of my favorite children's books! That was a great link!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      Unfortunately we have not had the privilege of owning a yard. Maybe with my grandkids.

    • Proud Mom profile image

      Proud Mom 

      9 years ago from USA

      Tom, that is one of the most touching stories I've read.

      Sorry-I had to edit. Somehow, I missed you and Benson's conversation.

      Thank you for sharing this with us!!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      No, Pest, I am happy you have your tree and do not begrudge anyone theirs because I do not have mine.

      Near my childhood home there was a crimson maple that was gigantic. I mean immense. It towered over the neighboring houses. Really spectacular.

    • Pest profile image


      9 years ago from A Couch, Lake Odessa, MI

      Beautiful story Tom. I have a red maple that my grandfather and I planted back home. It was a sapling then and now it ias a shade tree in the front yard. Probably not what you want to hear really. If this tree were to be cut down A piece of me would die, so I know how you feel and your Hub has a lot of meaning for me.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thank you Benson. I hope someday I have a yard. Then I will plant a tree in it and hope for better luck.

    • Benson Yeung profile image

      Benson Yeung 

      9 years ago from Hong Kong

      Thanks for sharing this very warm story. Life is tough, somehow memories soften it.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      I always wanted to write about this thread that was yanked out of the fabric of my life, and now I did.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Thanks for sharing this personal story Tom. I know it's not easy but we all have had to at some point. :D

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      That's a great story, Funride! Thanks for commenting.

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      9 years ago from Portugal

      Thanks for sharing your memoirs Tom. It´s nice to compare our growing process with a growing tree. I also had that same experience but in my case they were pine trees which grow much faster than oak trees. No doubt I can imagine your oak tree growing and I will remember it every time another one is cut down...

      If you love oak trees then you´ll also love this hub:


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)