Planting Trees



My mother used to tell me that we don’t plant trees for ourselves.  They are a gift that we leave for future generations.

When I posted my last blog, my sister made a comment that encouraged me to keep writing.  She mentioned that we never know who we might encourage or inspire and she asked me to remember all of those folks who had done the same for me.

So, I started thinking about my past.  Who has impacted my life?    As I thought back, the first name that came to mind was Miss McNeely.  Lucille McNeely (Tillie to her friends) was my fifth grade teacher.  Everyday after recess, during our milk break, she would read to us.  She read the unabridged versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  She read Kentucky authors such as Jesse Stuart and so many others. She demanded hard work.  She taught us to write on both sides of the paper reminding us that it was our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth, long before it was politically correct to do so.   And, once when she saw me sneaking candy during class, she quietly handed me a note telling me that if I was hungry, she would get me something to eat.

Why were those the things that held a prominent place in my memory?  Was their one grand gesture or great idea that she shared?  I was a little confused.  Why did I think that this woman helped me to be a better person?  I remember being so irritated by the work load that she put on us.  When she called me out (privately) for eating candy, I was angry and embarrassed.  And yet, this teacher is always one that I think of as a person having great influence over my life.

I am a member of a twelve-step group for friends and families of those who suffer from an addiction.  We are fixers.  That is a problem that seems to get in my way, a lot.  Perhaps it is the reason that I fail to see the value in Miss McNeely’s presence in my life.  I am looking for ‘the magic dust’…something that made me different or better. The puzzle piece that fit just so in my life that changed the picture.   I look so long and so hard for this thing that I overlook the love.

Miss McNeely’s passion for the written word kindled a fire in my fifth grade self that has never been quenched.  Her love of our planet made me cognizant to this day of the careful use of it’s resources.  And, her ability to call me out when I did something that I shouldn’t have…keeping it quietly between us was a lesson in how to do the hard things and were all expressions of love.

Father Greg Boyle, SJ is a Jesuit priest who is the founder of the largest gang rehab in our country.  I like to think of one of his quotes as a reminder of my place in this equation that is my life:

“You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable.  Kinship.  You stand with the belligerent, the surly and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is:  the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”

I notice his use of the word ‘with’.  We stand with… Just as Jesus stands with the woman at the well, he stands with me.  If I want to plant seed, then I will be grateful for the ‘Miss McNeely’s’ in life.  Those who stand with us offering us love in the everyday of our lives.  I cannot be anyone’s savior.  I am only here to share what I have.

Who influenced you?  Do you know why?  I hope you go in search because I bet that is where you will find God, today.


About The Author

Jean Heaton

I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.


  1. Mark David Goodson | 2nd Aug 17

    You know the teacher in me is giving this post a standing ovation!

    There is such a cool connection in this piece. Between trees and looking out for future generations like teachers do. They both have that “long tail” or after effect that can’t ever be quantified in the moment. It is the trust that something is happening, something is growing.

    I had an English teacher in college inspire me. I didn’t major in English then. I didn’t really know who I was. I majored in Econ of all things. A subject that doesn’t interest the adult me in the least bit. But still, years later, like the growth of a tree, I can look back and see his profound impact on the direction of my life.

    • Jean Heaton | 2nd Aug 17

      Mark, Thank you so much. Teachers have so much power…it isn’t quantifiable but man, oh man is it there. Let me recommend that Kentucky author I mentioned in this post. He wrote a book based on his teaching experience in a poor section of east KY. “The Thread that Runs so True”. It is so inspiring and shows a more immediate impact that a teacher has on ignorance and poverty.

      Thank you for reading!

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