I’m not typically one to spout out unsolicited advice but I’m going to go against my tendencies just this once and do it anyway because I feel pretty confident it’s a solid tip.
Here it is: if you are invited to a public event on the property of the kind of man that would donate his land to a volunteer group who wants to plant trees on it, do not back into the truck of that property owner and smash his tail-light before you even get to the planting site.
I offer you this advice so that you won’t ever feel the way I felt walking into the TREE (The Reforestation Efforts of Everyone) event during National Forest Week on Sept. 28.
It was a beautiful day out, though I was a little cranky at having to work on my day off. In fact, I’d wavered on even attending the event but opted to split the difference and bring my family with me instead of skipping it because it was such a worthwhile event to cover.
And hey, maybe my kids would learn something.
We got there and then I promptly backed into David Slade’s truck. I broke it. I left a note and my business card in the truck before making the roughly 200-metre walk of shame to get to the field the group of volunteers were working in. Then I had to put my hat in my hand and ask around to see whose day I wrecked (besides my own).
That’s when I learned it was Mr. Slade’s truck. I forget the exact words we exchanged when I approached him but my first words were along the lines of: “Hi, Mr. Slade, I’m Sarah from the Citizen, thank you for inviting me to this event and I’m so sorry but I broke your truck and I will fix it.”
Were my embarrassment a drill I would have hit the Earth’s core.
If he was angry he certainly never showed it. We talked a little about it and just like that, his attention turned to the reason we were there: planting 300 trees on his former sheep pasture.
Still feeling awful, I got to work taking my photos and talking to people, in a bit of a fog. Then I saw my shy and unsure kids taken by volunteers to make special name tags for themselves out of tree chips and string and it lightened my heart a little.
I think it might have been Mrs. Slade that offered my son popcorn. That kid would stack firewood all day in the snow to earn a bag of popcorn. (He gets it from his Grammy.) It was like a switch turned on in his five-year-old brain and all of a sudden he needed a shovel and had to learn how to plant trees, like NOW. These people were not strangers anymore. They were kin to him.
As luck would have it there was a grandpa-like man in the group who didn’t seem to mind that my son, and by extension, his sister, began to gravitate his way.
Yup, it was Mr. Slade.
The man whose vehicle I just damaged took my kids around his pasture, looking for the best spots to plant trees, then digging holes, taking turns putting the trees into the holes and then covering them up. Tree after tree. Question after question. The kids followed Mr. Slade like they were puppies and he had the treats.
(“You have to stomp on the top carefully with your foot to push down the dirt, Mom,” my little tree planting expert confidently told me on the way home.)
My husband and I stood there and stared in awe. Our son doesn’t normally talk to people he doesn’t know. Heck, he barely talks to ones he does know a lot of the time. It was, and I can’t stress this enough, AMAZING.
So yes, I do need to fix Mr. Slade’s truck and that likely means getting him a new tail-light cover. But he gave my family something so much more important: genuine kindness and some real memories to last a lifetime. I’m not sure I can ever repay him for that.