My mother walked with me up Elkins Avenue to 48th on a sunny September morning. I was just six years old on my way to the first day of school at Sylvan Park Elementary School. She said, “See that tree. It has shiny leaves. Turn here and go straight. This street will take you to the school.” It was fall and I never thought that trees lose their leaves. Fortunately, this one didn’t for months. It was a beautiful southern magnolia. It proved to be my beacon well into winter.
While other kids went different ways to school, I stayed with the shiny leaf tree. Even years later as I drove by, I remembered that day and that admonition: “This street will take you to school.” Mama didn’t know the other roads to be opened by the school. She only finished the seventh grade in a rural Tennessee school that held classes three months a year. She could barely read or write.
The years at school took me further and further from home. I heard the "Road Not Taken" in the fourth grade. “Two roads parted in a yellow wood, I took the one less traveled by and that’s made all the difference.” I didn’t stop with this Frost poem. There was "The Death of a Hired Man" and "Mending Wall" and all the rest.
The road I took turned at a shiny leaf tree. I checked out that corner the last time I was home. The tree is gone and so is Mama, but the memory remains alive. The road I took still leads to that old school. But road leads onto road and I’ll not be able to go back there. That turn brought so many other roads that the way back was never considered.
A little thing, a turn in the road, a choice made, but what differences have been made by a magnolia tree.