By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 38 - An Unexpected Gathering - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

Chapter 38 - An Unexpected Gathering


Sometimes, nothing needs to be said for everyone to know what has to be done.

It was that kind of a morning.

As if the wind had been whispering instructions into the ears of people still groggy with sleep.

As if clouds had dotted the sky with encoded messages for anyone who bothered to look up.

As if the air that we breathed was kinetic with silent commands.

And all of it—the whispers, the messages, and the commands—were saying the same things:


Come now.

Come with the steadfastness of spirit of a man about to do battle.

Come with determination as great as that of Samuel Swerling or Alonso Hannah when they were intent upon creating their park.


The date was July 17.

The day was Friday.

The sun rose at 5:39 a.m., and the temperature was a perfect 70° degrees.

Being mid-summer, the Children’s Garden boasted colorful clumps of delphiniums, dahlias, and morning glory; and huge pink water lilies floated in the koi pond beneath the statue of Ethan’s Best Friend.

I’ve already told you that we—my fellow climbing trees and I—were a sorry sight. Our boughs drooped, our trunks sagged, and we had lost our leaves. But, bedraggled as we appeared, we were not alone. Other trees, not climbing trees, were lush with foliage. Lawns were robust, grass sparkled with dew, and we were surrounded by vigorous health.

Park visitors, and fewer came every day, were met by gluttonies of greenery surrounding islands of despair.

It is no wonder that even our best friends found us unnerving.

I heard one man say—an actor who had once spent long hours learning his lines while perched high in a climbing tree—that coming to the park now was like attending a banquet where half the people were gorging on roasted meats while the other half were starving to death.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about food.

There is more than one type of starvation.

So yes. We were a depressing sight.

Added to which was that plethora of warning notices and posters, which made our park benches look like billboards in a slum. Who, after all, would want to sit beside an ugly plastic sign where “By Order of the Commissioner…” slapped you in the face?

Worse was the terrible placard that was still nailed over Honor’s welcome poem at the entrance to the park. And far worse than that were the pointed stakes of the NO TREE CLIMBING signs still painfully piercing our roots.

Hercules and Alonso continued to maintain the park’s grounds as best they could.

Not a path went un-swept, not a patch of grass went un-weeded, and not a scrap of paper was allowed to accumulate on the grass. But it was heartbreaking work. Like a dog owner grooming his beloved pet while trying desperately to ignore evidence that its fur was thinning and its bones were poking through the skin.

We climbing trees were dying.

Not Herk or Alonso…not Esther, Meg, their families or their friends…could save us.

Each day at 8:00 a.m., Jarvis Larchmont’s workers—we later learned that they were temporary employees hired specifically for that purpose—entered the park and created human barricades to keep everyone, including Hercules, Alonso and the entire Swerling clan, from making contact with us trees.

They monitored the posters and signs to make sure none had been removed, vandalized, or destroyed; and if they saw a park visitor about to initiate an action inimical to a policy set by the acting parks commissioner, they immediately summoned the police.

I don’t know if any of the people living around the park had communicated with each other beforehand, and I doubt it, since the gathering—and I’ll tell you about that in a minute—suggested spontaneity. Friday just happened to be the right day for the right people to be listening to the right wind, decoding the right messages transmitted by clouds, and obeying the right edicts issued out of thin air.

Such things happen.

Esther, her siblings, her mother, her grandmother, and Meg were the first to arrive. They got here at 7:00 a.m.

Patrolman Pete McWhorter met them at the gate. He had a hammer in his hand, warmth in his eyes, and a smile beneath his handlebar mustache. The first thing that he did was to carefully pry nails out of all four corners of the placard covering Honor’s sign. Then he folded it twice—it was so thick that it cracked—and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket.

Esther, Noah, Carmichael, and Meg walked past Pete into the park. They proceeded from bench to bench, and gently removed the thumbtacks that held the ugly yellow posters to the backrests. Ghita, accompanied by Mr. Corporate America (I don’t remember when he came into the park, but it was after Ghita and before Franklin), collected the posters and, standing side-by-side over a wastebasket, cut them into tiny pieces.

Alvin Widdle got here at about the same time as Franklin, and gravitated toward Pete McWhorter, who had just yanked the sharp stake of a NO TREE CLIMBING sign off my roots. The instant he did that, the pain stopped, and something inside me that, for weeks, could not stop crying, no longer had a reason to weep.

Mr. Widdle offered to help Patrolman McWhorter remove the rest of the signs, and thenceforth, the two of them advanced from tree to tree, bringing us all great relief.

As the Swerlings and their friends worked, children, some accompanied by grownups and some alone, were also streaming into the park. A few carried stuffed animals, and after their parents deposited them on our branches in blatant defiance of Jarvis Larchmont’s rules, they sat contentedly and watched the world go by.

Other children skipped, galloped, and cavorted, as joyous as captive puppies released into a sunny world of flying Frisbees, dog biscuits, and rawhide bones.

All of the children, the very young, the not quite so young, the adolescents, and the teens, were happy.

They ran past Alvin Widdle and Patrolman McWhorter.

They ran past Esther, Meg, Ghita and Mr. Corporate America.

Quick and nimble as chipmunks, they scampered into our trees.

Chapter 38 - An Unexpected Gathering - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE

Up and up and up, until they could climb no higher. The ones who had been deposited on our branches earlier by their parents were soon joined by Mom and Dad, who clambered up beside them.

And stayed.

The older children were so bursting with joie de vivre that on any other day they would have had to be restrained.

But not on that day.

Not on that morning.

Restraint was not a word in anyone’s dictionary.

Oh, it was wonderful.

At least until 8:00 a.m., at which time Jarvis Larchmont’s employees returned. They stomped into the park, one behind the other like a belligerent band of martinets.

In the half-second it took them to pass through the gate, all activity stopped. All exuberance ceased. All clambering, cavorting, and climbing paused, as if in a freeze frame on a video projector.

Nobody moved.

Nobody spoke.

Everyone held his breath.

We watched.

First their leader, a tall gangly woman named Delana, with big teeth and knobby hands, stared at the backrests of the park benches.

Her mouth dropped open, appalled.

She shouted, “Posters! Rodney, check the southwest quadrant. Jarrod, check the Children’s Garden. FIND THE POSTERS!”

She ran from tree to tree.

“Signs!” She bellowed. “Signs are missing, too! Kendall, search everywhere. Find out who took the signs!”

Meanwhile, another worker glanced toward Honor’s poem, over which the placard should have been nailed.

“Hey, Delana,” he called out. “Look here. It’s gone!”

More yells.

More shouts.

More running in frantic circles.

Esther, from the far end of the brick path leading to the koi pond, heard every frantic word. She shook her head in disgust. Then she surprised us all by cupping her mouth with her hands, and in a voice dead-on similar to that of Delana with the knobby hands, shouted, “The sky is falling in! The sky is falling in!”

Right after that (and again, this was not premeditated; I’m sure it astonished Esther as much as it did the rest of us), all of the children in the park, from the lowest branch of the fattest tree to the highest branch in the tallest tree, also began to shout, “The sky is falling in! The sky is falling in!”

The call was immediately taken up by their parents and, seconds later, by Esther’s family and friends as well.

And THAT was when Delana and her henchmen realized every rule and regulation they had implemented three weeks before was being violated and mocked by unseen individuals scattered here and there through

Chapter 38 - An Unexpected Gathering - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE