Chicken Little and the Money Tree
By Wayne Brady
February 27, 2005
I was grocery shopping the other day when a stranger passing me on an aisle said to me, “You have a warm and friendly smile.”
“Thank you, it’s people like you who make it easy for me to keep smiling,” I responded.
As I walked away, my mind traveled back nearly fifty years to a substitute grandfather I had when I was growing up. The thing I remember most about him, his warm friendly smile.
The second to the oldest of my mother’s seven brothers, his only child, a daughter, had married and moved away with her military husband. I came along at the perfect time to fill a void in his life. I became a primary beneficiary of a tremendous amount of love that Uncle Levi and Aunt Evie had to give.
He called me Chicken Little after an incident at the home of another of my mother’s brothers. In those days, they allowed chickens to wander around the yard like they were pets. Uncle Ward had a yard full of them. One day while walking around the yard, I got too close to one of his banty roosters and the feisty little chicken attacked me and chased me around the yard. When Uncle Ward picked me up, I excitedly told him about “Chicken Little” running me around the yard and they picked up on it and began calling me Chicken Little.
Some of my earliest memories include visiting Uncle Levi’s turn-of–the-century home located on the edge of the small town of Shubuta, Mississippi and picking up pecans that had fallen from the huge trees in the front yard. Sometimes we would go down to his peanut patch and pull fresh green peanuts from his garden. Although he would allow me to eat a few raw peanuts, he would make me wait until he boiled them in salt water before I could eat my fill of them.
My most precious thoughts of Uncle Levi are how he went to great effort to perpetuate a ruse, rivaled only by Santa Claus at Christmas, on a small child. He told me that he had a “special” tree in his yard and that there were no others like it in the world. To make it even more special, he told everyone that I was the only person that he would allow to pick its fruit. The details of what the tree looked like have almost completely faded from my memory, but the idea will be with me until I die.
I don’t know how he did it but on the days that the fruit was ready to be harvested, Uncle Levi would meet me as I got out of my parents car, lift me in his arms, and carry me to the rear of his home. There it stood, in the middle of a hedgerow. A magnificent tree completely covered with its fantastic fruit. I have never seen another like it and I alone could pick from it.
Uncle Levi would carry me over and hold me high enough to pick the fruit from the upper branches before lowering me to the ground to complete the harvest.
Then he would back off beaming with pleasure as I excitedly pulled the apples, oranges, peaches, pears, dollar bills, and sparkling new coins from the tree.
My brother says that I was the only one naïve enough to believe that the tree was real is why I was the only one allowed to pick from it. I prefer to imagine how happy it must have made Uncle Levi to see the excitement of a child’s innocency, accepting what he sees as real.
I cannot eat boiled peanuts today without remembering the person who meant so much to me when I was so impressionable. I know the comfort that I feel every time that I think about the effort he must have put into making my life more special.
Uncle Levi was instrumental in many ways to my maturation from a child to manhood. He was a deacon in the church and I learned to sing with joy sitting on a pew beside him. When I was fourteen, he allowed me to take the wheel of his most prized possession, a 1948 Ford Deluxe. We would drive those graveled roads, stopping often to visit friends and relatives. In those visits, I experienced the joy and pleasure that he brought to everyone and more importantly I learned the value of a warm friendly smile.
My wife met Uncle Levi briefly in the hospital just a few days before he died. But to this day she remembers how happy he was to see us and how happy he was that I was lucky enough to have a wife like her. A wife who would cook biscuits for a little boy who loved them.
I only hope that I offer a smile of joy and acceptance to others, a little like Uncle Levi’s
by Wayne Brady February 27, 2005