A Boring Theme?
I didn't tell any of my groups we would be doing a Tree Theme. They might not have come. The idea of talking trees doesn't sound very stimulating.
Who Doesn't Like A Tree?
Everyone can find something good to say about trees. When I asked my Alzheimer's group to tell me something good about a tree, Ro smiled softly and began, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..."
The stories of kids and trees were the best. Ken said he was a city boy, but remembered trying to jump from a wall to a tree as a young boy.
His small hands lost their grip on the branch and he fell, cutting his head. Someone in our group asked if he still had a scar and Ken laughed, "Pay me a quarter and I'll show you the scar!" He chuckled again as he remembered another detail. "My mother nicknamed me monkey after that."
When I asked my group at the center who could think of a song about a tree, the group looked at me blankly. Then Robert, who is always hidden under his WWll Vet hat, spoke softly. He isn't one for singing solo in a group, but when he started up, just speaking the words, "like a tree planted near the water, I shall not be moved..." the group began to recognize the old African American spiritual. It was a touching moment to see this grou[ singing and swaying together.
Click below to hear Mississippi John Hurt sing
I played a few theme related recording and got different reactions. The younger crowd loved the livelier version of "Lemon Tree", by Herb Alpirt. My older and quieter seniors liked Peter, Paul and Mary's version... even though they didn't remember the trio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLhYghzNfII
The only song that everyone seemed to recognize was, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". This isn't the first time those Andrew Sisters have gotten a few to their feet, dancing at the Community Center!
Underneath a Tree
We ended up having quite a discussion about sitting under trees! Everyone was talking at once, trying to name the special person they would want to sit with, underneath a tree.
All talked at once, until we used a prop from the table. We had to "pass the apple" around the table to help us take turns. One dear woman who spoke no English, had her friend interpret. She smiled and pointed up to the sky and said she would want to be under the tree with her mother... who is now in heaven. Another, less serious member of our group, grinned and lifted her eyebrows dramatically. "I'll never tell!
We started talking about what you might see in a tree. We began with the obvious. Fruits, nuts, leaves. We moved on, to swings, birdhouses, nests and colored lights. About every possible animal was named and then someone mentioned a tree house! Which of course led to kids in trees! There were only a few women in my 4 groups, who remembered climbing trees.I guess that's not surprising.
That reminded me to be appreciative that I was born in a day when girls climbed trees. I was a big fan of tree climbing and so were my own kids. We thought about kids today and wondered how many have never climbed a tree. Some kids might not have a tree to climb, but most just don't have time to climb.
In one of my groups, we pondered the old question, "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear... does it make a sound?" It didn't take long for the jury to agree. "Of course there would be a sound!"
Another group got off on a debate about Spanish moss being a parasite. The group finally decided no.
In my hospital group, we got off on a different kind of subject. Our discussion of tree roots, led to family roots.
Family Roots Family Trees
Jon who was new to our group, said he began exploring his family roots after his father died. "my father never wanted to talk about where he came from, because Dad was adopted. But I wanted to know."
It was touching to hear the group support Jon. They were glad he cared enough to explore his history. Margie encouraged Jon, "Family history is important!
Sweet Dorothy leaned in and shared with a smile, "I have a lot of family history." Dorothy always shares positive stories, even though she grew up in a poor, black family in Mississippi.
Ken softly interrupted. "You wouldn't have to go back very far and you'd have slaves in your family history." The words sound harsh in print and I did cringe when I heard Ken speak. But I was touched but the reaction. Dorothy turned to Ken and smiled, "I know. That's true." These two come from such different worlds, (Ken from the Bronx) but they share a warmth and trust and positive spirit that I have come to admire.
Making a Tree
There were no discussions of family roots, with my group at the Center. But there was lots of sharing.
We got off on a project, making "leaf tags" to decorate a bare tree branch. I just threw out paper, pens and yarn and they jabbered away as they worked. I laughed to watch this group, as comfortable as siblings at a dinner table, sharing pens and fighting over scissors and laughing over stories.
What did I learn?
It doesn't take much. I don't need a tricky theme or fancy art supplies or props. This was one of those subjects that brought people together. It didn't matter about age or health or skills or education. Everyone had a little something interesting to say about trees.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.