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The Autumn Leaves around The Oak Tree

By Abbygail Ramirez
The Autumn Leaves around the oak

In a forest near a town, there was a small oak sapling. This sapling would watch as the leaves of the other trees around it would turn hues of gold and red. They would flow off the branches with the autumn wind, leaving the trees barren and shivering during the cold winter storms. One day, a little girl littered with bruises ran into the forest. Tears stung her eyes as she ran until she couldn’t anymore. She knelt in front of the small oak sapling and wept.

 

“What is wrong?” The oak sapling asked, “Why do you cry such tears?”

 

The little girl spoke between stifled sobs, “My father…He doesn't love me. He hurts me with his bottles and his fists.”

 

The oak spoke back to her.

 

Cry on my roots, let your tears free.

 

I may be small, but I will grow taller.

 

I will grow to be as tall as the other trees you see.

 

I will stand for you when you can no longer stand for yourself.

 

The girl continued to cry until her eyes could no longer water. She walked back to the place she could not call home. As time passed, the little girl would visit the oak sapling every day for the rest of the autumn, sharing her thoughts with it, happy or sad. When the autumn wind drew its last breath, the other trees in the forest had lost their leaves. But the oak tree grew taller, and its leaves remained with golds and reds that lingered throughout the seasons. The girl’s care had given it warmth in the winter.

 

A few years passed and the little girl was not so little anymore, for she had found young love and married. Her visits shortened, but she still came to see the oak every day. One of these days, the young woman ran to the oak with tears streaming down her face. She knelt in front of the tall oak tree and wept.

 

“What is wrong?” The tall oak tree asked, “Why do you cry such tears?”

 

The young woman spoke between sobs, “My husband…My husband no longer cares for me. He has cast me aside for another.”

 

The oak spoke back to her.
 

Cry on my roots, let your tears free.

 

I have grown since before, and I will continue to rise.

 

I shall rise higher than the other trees in this forest.

 

I will stand for you when you can no longer stand for yourself.

 

The young woman continued to cry until her eyes felt sore. She walked to the home that was no longer her own. As time passed, the young woman would visit the tall oak tree every day for the rest of the autumn, telling tales and singing when she wished to. When the autumn wind changed to frostbitten winter, the other trees in the forest were barren. But the oak tree grew taller, and its leaves remained with their oranges and yellows. The oak felt warm as the winter had passed.

 

More years passed, and the young woman matured, for she now had a passion and a dream to follow. Her visits shortened yet again, but she still came to see the oak every day. One of these days, the woman ran to the oak with sorrow on her face. She knelt in front of the grand oak tree and wept.

 

“What is wrong?” The grand oak tree asked, “Why do you cry such tears?”

 

The woman spoke as calmly as she could muster, “I am afraid I must leave, for my dreams are in the city. I wish to make a life for myself, but I must leave you, my friend. I am sorry.”

 

The grand oak spoke back to her.
 

Cry on my roots, let your tears free.

 

You deserve a life outside your town, and I will wait for you as long as it takes.

 

The autumn wind will carry your words to me no matter where you are.

 

I will stand for you when you can no longer stand for yourself.

 

The woman continued to cry until her throat was sore. She walked to the home she would soon leave. As time passed, the ambitious woman would visit the tall oak tree every day for the rest of the autumn, telling it of her plans for the future. When the cascading leaves were replaced with snowfall, the other trees in the forest were bare. But the grand oak tree stood taller than the rest and its leaves remained with their yellows and faded greens. The grand oak appeared to be in the midst of spring despite the heavy rain and storms that brewed.

 

Many years passed, and the woman was not so young anymore, for she now had streaks of gray in her auburn hair and children to call her own. She could not see the oak tree but would whisper to it on her balcony for the autumn wind to carry her words every day. She hadn’t cried and she hadn’t wept, but she told the oak to wait just a bit longer, for she would return one day when she was old and gray.

 

The oak waited a few more years, the wise woman with hair as silver as the stars smiled at the thought of reuniting with her old friend. She walked to the oak tree with her cane in hand. Tears streamed down her face upon seeing the blossoming oak tree standing grand and above the entire forest. She lay underneath the oak tree and smiled a grand smile.

 

“I am overjoyed of your return,” The blooming oak said to her, “You have not cried nor have you wept. You have stood up for yourself all these years.”

 

The woman spoke to the blooming oak

 

I have cried on your roots and let my tears free

 

I have lived a long, fulfilling life with you standing beside me

 

But the skin on my creaking bones becomes more wrinkled as time passes.

 

I cannot stand for long, as I need three legs to hold me.

 

I have begun to grow old and weary, and I am afraid I must say goodbye soon.

 

The wise woman felt warmth on her cheeks, a warmth she hadn’t felt in a long while. Her tears hit the floor with a pang as she thought of parting with her old friend. The blooming oak saw these tears and spoke to her in the same ways it had before.

 

Cry on my roots, let your tears free.

 

I will remain here for you through life and death

 

Feel proud of how long you have stood

 

I will stand for you when you can no longer stand for yourself.

 

The wise woman continued to cry until she could cry no longer. She walked to her home where her children greeted her with smiles. Time passed, and the wise woman was unable to visit every day, but walked when she could. The autumn wind drew its last breath, just as the wise woman had that winter night. Her children carried her ashes to the base of the grand blooming oak tree. She was scattered across her old friend, carried with the last remaining bits of the autumn wind. For the first time in a long while, the oak tree’s leaves turned. Its leaves descended from its branches in a dance of red and orange hues. The yellow and pale green colors whirled and leaped in the wind; the grand oak wept in mourning for its lost friend.

 

A year had passed and the oak looked to the floor. It noticed a sprout of green from the dirt which its friend had laid. Over the years the grand blooming oak cared for the young sprout. The sprout had grown into a weeping willow sapling, some of her branches intertwined with the oak’s trunk. The old friends reunited once more, they grew together and were happy. They would watch as the leaves of the other trees around them would change their colors to red and yellow. They would fall from the branches and leave the trees, the grand blooming oak having its warmth and sharing it with the willow. One day, a little boy littered with bruises ran into the forest. Tears stung his eyes as he ran until he couldn’t run anymore. He knelt in front of the small willow sapling and wept.

 

“What is wrong?” The willow sapling asked, “Why do you cry such tears?”

 

The little boy spoke, “The kids at school do not like me…they throw stones and rocks at me for fun.”

 

The willow spoke back to him

 

Cry on my roots, let your tears free.

 

I may be small, but I will grow taller.

 

I will grow to be as tall as the grand blooming oak you see

 

I will stand for you when you can no longer stand for yourself.

The Falling Leaves Were Falling Tears

by Vangogh Tran
*Selected as Staff Series Pick

As it was with most early Central Valley autumns, the weather had turned just slightly colder and the leaves weren’t falling yet. A gentle, graceful breeze blew through the valley, helping birds propel throughout the sky, practicing for their upcoming migration. Both the birds and the trees prepared for the change coming soon.

The bright light shone through the window as Nhat sat at his small bedroom desk. Crumpled up paper balls and an assortment of random stationary littered his workspace. He was distracted by the thoughts of what had happened at school that day.

The substitute teacher had mispronounced his name during attendance. Just like the three hundred teachers before him. All his classmates laughed loudly while Nhat just laid his head down on his cold, wooden desk.

Why couldn’t he be given a normal American name? Like David, or Leo, or whatever other names his classmates had? Instead, he was given the name Nhat, meaning “first” in Vietnamese. How dumb was that? He couldn’t understand why his mom had ever thought that was a good idea.

Even worse was the lunches his mom packed him every day. They were filled with an assortment of traditional Vietnamese foods, not the normal sandwiches or thermos lunches his classmates got. Bún, bánh mì, bánh xèo, you name it, Nhat’s mom had packed it and embarrassed him whenever he opened his lunchbox.

Suddenly, in the middle of his thoughts, Nhat heard his mom’s yell, loud as a gong.

“Nhat!” she shouted from downstairs, “Come try these bánh nướng!”

Rolling his eyes far from her sight, Nhat sighed. Would his mom ever give him a break? “OK, mom! Give me a sec!” Lazily, he got up from his chair and went down the stairs.

It was Tết Trung Thu today, the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally celebrated by children. Nhat’s mom had put in all her effort trying to contact as many Vietnamese families as she could in Turlock. She wanted the children to participate in a traditional Lion Dance parade down Main Street.

She could picture it inside her head: families laughing and smiling, happy to celebrate a traditional holiday. The kids would put on a beautiful spectacle and the parents would clap and clap along to the music. It had been far too long, she thought, since she had seen the Lion Dance.

The war had drifted her away from her beloved Saigon. It was still hard to think about, even forty years later. She had spent a whole month on a fishing boat with little food and water. With only a couple hundred dollars, she immigrated to California, got a job as a nurse, met a fellow refugee with whom she fell in love, and had Nhat.

She hadn’t known that she would lose one of them so soon after that.  

Nhat arrived in the spacious kitchen, distracting his mother from her thoughts. She quickly put on a smile, hiding her feelings.

The very familiar smell of bánh nướng filled with pandan extract wafted through the air. He didn’t know why his mom didn’t make chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cakes like everyone else did for special events. The counters were filled with an array of different bowls, plates, and reused containers.

Nhat picked up a bánh nướng and nibbled it, just to please his mom. It was sweet and warm on the inside, but his thoughts from earlier prevented him from enjoying it.

“Is it good?” his mom asked, still trying to cook three dishes at the same time.

“Yeah, I guess,” Nhat answered with the bare minimum amount of effort, hoping to get back to his room.

“Nhat, wait!” his mom exclaimed, seeing her son turn around.

“Yeah, mom?”

She wanted to say something, but just couldn’t get the words out right. Instead, she said, “Can you help me pack up the things in the car for the festival later? It’s a lot of stuff, and it’d be quicker if you could help me.” She patted him on the hair with her wrist, not wanting to get bánh nướng batter on his thick, black hair.

“Oh, sure,” Nhat replied, before going back up to his room.

His mom smiled once more and returned to her arduous cooking. She knew Nhat’s strategies, to try to get back to his room as soon as possible. She understood why he had come home looking upset that day. And maybe all of it was her fault. But it was important for Nhat to understand his culture, she felt. Was she making the right choices as a parent?

She didn’t want to dwell on these thoughts any longer. She needed someone to talk to, but everyone around her was gone. All of Nhat’s grandparents had passed away. Her seven sisters and brothers all had their own separate, successful lives and wonderful families. No one would want to talk to her, she knew. Nhat was an ocean away from her, and she didn’t know how to mend their relationship. She teared up once more. Never had she cried in front of her son, not wanting to show weakness.

Back in his room, Nhat sat back down on his chair. He turned on his computer to play some video games. While playing though, he couldn’t help but feel angry at his mom. Didn’t she know by now that she was embarrassing him? Why couldn’t they celebrate normal holidays like Easter and Christmas? Instead, it was always “Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam!”

He turned off the bright computer screen and sighed. Nhat looked out his window. The tree outside his window stood tall and bright, but Nhat knew that soon it would lose its leaves. His mom once remarked that a tree never felt understood. That the falling leaves in the autumn were actually falling tears.

Nhat’s mom had finished preparing the festival foods and thought of calling Nhat down to come help pack everything up. Before doing so, she knew she needed to make one last visit. To her late husband’s photo on the house altar. The only person who she knew would listen.

Using a lighter, she lit two incense sticks, one for her and one for Nhat, and placed them in their holder. Then, she kneeled down on her knees, something she was used to doing every night before bed. Tearing up, she started praying to her beloved. “I’m so sorry, Vien,” she told him, crying, “I’ve failed our son. After tonight, if he doesn’t want to celebrate our traditions, he won’t have to. I won’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do. I should have done this years ago. I’ve hurt our son, haven’t I?” Tears still falling, she placed her hands palm-to-palm and bowed down multiple times. Thoughts of her husband and son floated in her mind.

 

What she didn’t know was that Nhat had been standing nearby, hearing her speak and cry, the first time he had seen her do so. He had come downstairs wanting to ask if his mom was ready to go yet. While he heard his mom speak, he felt an ache in his heart. His mom had worked so hard all these years just for him to reject his culture. Was this guilt? Nhat now knew what he had to do.

His mom said her last prayers and stood up. She turned around, not expecting Nhat to suddenly come and embrace her.

“Nhat, I’m so sorry, I was just telling your dad about the festival tonight,” she fibbed.

“No, it’s okay, mom, I heard everything you said. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done these past few years. I’m sorry for telling you that I don’t like the lunches you made. Sorry for everything and anything I’ve done to reject our culture.” Now it was Nhat’s turn to cry, salty tears falling on his mom’s shoulder.

“No, you don’t have to apologize, Nhat,” she replied, “I know how it makes you feel at school and everything. I can stop making Vietnamese foods for lunch and celebrate all of the holidays and everything. I want to make you happy.”

“What makes me happy is being with you, mom.” Nhat let go of the embrace with a big smile on his face. “I want to start over. Will you start teaching me about Vietnam like you used to when I was younger?

Nhat’s mom continued crying, this time, however, out of happiness. “Yes, but we have guests waiting for us at the festival!” she laughed through her tears. Nhat laughed as well, still crying himself.

Outside, the birds prepared for their yearly migration. The trees prepared to change colors and shed their leaves. In the coming years, a boy will grow to understand and appreciate his heritage. A mother will come to understand her son for who he is. And a father will be made proud of his wife and son.

Autumn's Thanksgiving

by Khlood Aleshmali

As the leaves lost their colors and began to fall down, hinting at the new season's arrival with the colors of vibrant reds, light oranges, and cheerful yellows, the days began to shorten and the hot summer slowly faded. The wind howled softly as the river rushed down through the rocks, and the fish swam through the streams. A wagon pulled by two horses was driven towards a newly constructed house with three windows and a huge door for an entrance surrounded by a metal fence. From the wagon came two women who seemed to be the tax collectors of the new resident coming to collect the taxes for the Thanksgiving season. The two women wore long skirts and had blonde hair that was simply styled into a braid to the side. One short and one tall, they had the complete opposite appearance. 

"Is this the place?" one asked.

"It seemed to be the house," another replied. 

They walked towards the fence and one opened the fence which was not yet closed. They walked towards the door and the short one knocked on the door but no one answered. Soon after a few tries, the tall one kneeled down and left an envelope in front of the door, then turned around and left. The short one followed. 

As the leaves continued to fall, a sad lonely breeze spread through the valley and its surroundings. Soon after a few hours, an old man with shabby eyes and sloping shoulders opened the front door and looked around, then kneeled down and held the envelope reading “For: John Hatt” on the envelope. An emotionless stare fell onto the envelope for a few seconds. The old man entered his house and closed the door, leaving the beauty of Autumn's season outside. 

Soon later, as time passed by and as the breeze got colder, the trees finally reached their stage where there were no more green leaves left to fall. In the early morning, within the first few days of fall, a wagon had arrived in front of the house filled with laughter and joy. The family of four consisted of the parents and two kids. After the family walked out of the wagon, they knocked on the door to the home with traditional Thanksgiving food like turkey, mash potatoes, and bread. They also brought gifts. At first, the old man did not open the door but after a few minutes he opened the door and gave a welcoming smile and a hug that was filled with warmth and love for his family. 

The sad lonely breeze was lifted from the valley by the family’s joy of their traditional Thanksgiving feast. As the family was enjoying their feast, the immigrating birds flew and sang as they left for hibernation and the chipmunks would gather their food into the tree. The family spent that night at Grandpa John’s house. The next day as the family was leaving they said their goodbyes, waved their hands, entered their wagon, and left. The old man's smile fell into a frown and he walked towards the porch of his house and sat in his chair. 

He was alone, reminiscing on his memories to himself, thinking about this same time of year when he would end up alone after Thanksgiving was over. The man thought to himself about the past and the permanent changes that are never going to undo themselves. He started to speak to himself as if he wasn't alone, as if his wife was still there comforting him and telling him to not be sad, but it was just his subconscious playing tricks on him. 

There was a sudden rustle coming from the uncleaned leaves that were all over the ground from the surrounding trees. The old man did not care at first and thought it was just the wind, but soon after it was repeated enough times, he decided to inspect the leaves. As the man kneeled down to move the leaves, he heard chirps coming from the leaves. As he inspected the leaves even more, he found an injured bird chirping for its dear life. After several minutes the bird stopped chirping and the man looked at the bird for a few more seconds, feeling guilty for not being able to save it, but accepting the fact that it's no longer with him. 

He casually stood up and walked towards his chair to sit down. He sat for a few hours, thinking silently and sinking in his thoughts and memories. He softly smiled and stood up from his seat and entered his house, closing the door behind him. Everyone turned back to their normal life. The kids would go back to school and the parents would go back to work. The man lived alone waiting for Thanksgiving to come again so that he could be with his family and feel the joy of Thanksgiving time.

 

The End

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