Most folks in the Custis family had lived their whole lives in the shadow of the old oak tree.
Children swung from its branches, sisters picnicked beneath its canopy, and lovers carved their initials into its trunk.
Only Granddaddy Jacob knew the tree’s whole story.
Jacob had been a young man that crisp fall morning when his daddy, Justin, found him in the side yard hacking away at the family’s first oak tree.
“Why you cutting down that tree, Jacob?” Justin asked.
“Gonna make a fine mantel for our new house, Daddy.” Jacob and Elsa had been married the month before, and their little cabin was but a few days old.
“We got plenty of wood , Jacob. Ain’t no need to murder another tree.”
Jacob swung his ax again.
“You’ll pay for this, son,” Daddy said. Jacob waved him off, and the old man walked away shaking his head.
Eventually, that old tree fell hard in the soft earth seventy feet from the cabin. Jacob cut it up, built his mantel, and used the rest for firewood that first winter.
The next spring, a sapling sprung up seventy feet from the cabin.
Jacob left the tree to grow, but it taught him a lesson about cleaning up after himself. And so, Jacob spent one afternoon each fall picking up acorns so that no trees grew too close to the family home.
It was a ritual he continued for sixty years until, one autumn, he was too frail — but Elsa wasn’t, so she headed out with her pawpaw basket to collect Jacob’s acorns.
All Jacob could do was sit on front porch and watch.
And when a massive branch broke free from its trunk and crashed into Elsa’s skull, all Jacob could do was remember his daddy’s warning.