Letters of Gratitude

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the central point of children’s words and behavior.  Many years ago, I accepted an invitation to speak to a classroom of first graders at the local elementary school.  The day I arrived there was a rainstorm.  Rain lashed the windows in invisible sheets. Try as I might I could not hold the children’s attention.  Even their teacher could not contain them.  They gathered round the two panels of glass enthralled by the sight.  Every attempt on my part to engage them in a lesson plan, was in vain.  Finally their teacher and I realized that in their lifetime they had never witnessed rain.  This was the first storm after a seven-year drought.  What appeared at first to be disregard, was in fact a deep and reverent gratitude for what they witnessed.

Since then I have been fascinated by glimpses of children’s gratitude.  In 1986 I watched a pre-school class release ladybugs at the nursery.  Grasping the sides of little burlap bags each child pulled, mesmerized by the red beetles emerging en masse up their arms and into the air.  Their responses ranged from gasps to giggles as the ladybugs scurried and tickled their skin.  Wide-eyed, mouths agape they watched and followed through the blocks of plants as the ladybird beetles took flight. 

Another time, in the 1990’s, I was working in a community garden with a group scheduled to plant wildflowers.  Plug trays filled with California poppies lay on tables waiting to be placed in the ground while parents and children worked the soil.  A very young boy, perhaps four, stood beside his father at eye level with the table.  In each fist he clenched a poppy plug.  His eyes, the size of saucers, stared at the little plants with dewy fern-like foliage that glistened in the sunlight.  “Daddy they sparkle!” he whispered.  His appreciation showed over his entire body as he visibly trembled with excitement.

Recently two classrooms from a nearby school came to visit the nursery and garden.  For two hours the aisles were humming with the chatter of childhood.  My husband showed them snowberries, strawberry trees and chocolate flowers.  They followed him into the greenhouses and learned how to grow plants from cuttings, seed and division.  Jennifer led them along the paths and through the garden pointing out grasses and trees.  They learned not to “toch the leaf that makes you ich” (Fremontia).  When the tour ended, each child picked out a plant to take home.  Delight shone from their faces, and a week later their gratitude came through the mail in  thank you notes illustrated with their drawings. The phonetic spelling endeared me to the simple meaning of gratitude behind any expectation of words I might have had.  Their comments went something like this: 
      “I wish I had a nother trip” 
      “The part I liked best was wen you give us the flower”
      “I learned the parts of plants roots leaves stems seeds”
      “I know roots hold a plant in the ground they take water and 
        minerals from the soil”. 
      “The part I like the best is wen you told us not to get ponsen   
Then there are the more subjective and inquisitive interpretations: 
“I like the plant that smell of the Blue Moon”
“I like the chock plant”
“Jenifr did you like plants when you wer a girl”
“My favorite part was wen we got to sit on the council circle”
“I learned that snowberries do not have to eat” 
“I wish I had a yard”
“Dave how did you become the boss” 
“My favorite part was when the sprinculers whent on and some people got wet”
“I learned how to keep my plant safe”. 
Their accompanying illustrations portrayed the necessary elements for a vigorous life; sunshine, water, rainbows, and care.  

Some of the pictures had rainbows, all had trees or flowers, most of the pictures show clouds floating by and brilliant suns shining.  There are children watering flowerbeds, children smelling flowers, boys with spiked hair and windblown hair, girls with curly hair and a dog appearing like a woolly sheep.  Smiling bumblebees and whimsical butterflies peer from the depth of their drawings. The strawberry trees and the chocolate flowers were particularly popular. Whether their pictures included block figures in crayon or the smiling faces of workers, round oaks, or straight columnar tree trunks, all the children remembered tall straight plants with strong roots, colorful flowers and an area to play.  In the end the consensus seemed to be that everyone had experienced genuine gratitude for what they had encountered in the garden.