My Memory Trees

“My Memory Trees,” New Era, July 1999, 12

Everyday Heroes:

My Memory Trees

A story of three friends, two trees, and an act of service that bears fruit year after year.

It was supposed to be a great day. It started out with Mom making a wonderful breakfast for Alan and me in honor of my 11th birthday.

Alan was my 12-year-old brother, but he was also my best friend. We got along so well that other people couldn’t believe we were brother and sister. We hardly ever fought, and we shared a lot of our thoughts, too.

Halfway through the school day I received a message from my parents to go to a friend’s house after school. All afternoon I let my imagination have a good time thinking about the surprise party my parents must be planning.

But that changed as soon as I got to my friend’s house and was told that Alan was sick and in the hospital. Alan had always been very healthy, so I was really surprised and worried.

Later, my parents picked me up at my friend’s house, and we rode home in silence. I was even more confused when we got home and there were neighbors and ward members everywhere doing our chores and making my birthday dinner.

My parents took me into my room and told me that Alan had died suddenly of a heart attack while at school. We hadn’t known it, but Alan had a birth defect in his heart. Devastated, I screamed uncontrollably. It would be a long time before I could accept the fact that my brother was gone.

Over the next few days we received several cards and plants in remembrance of Alan. But the thing I remember most was that some of Alan’s friends brought over and planted two fruit trees—a plum for Alan and an apple for me. The fact that those boys remembered my birthday along with remembering Alan made me feel very special.

The days, weeks, and months passed in a numbing blur. I had always looked forward to birthdays, but as my 12th one drew near, it was hard to be excited for it. How could I be happy on the day I lost my best friend and brother?

On the first anniversary of Alan’s death, was I ever surprised when three of the boys who planted the trees showed up on my doorstep with a bouquet of flowers for my birthday. They came in and visited with my family, really lifting our spirits. I didn’t have Alan to share his life with me, but I did have his three friends. They became my heroes.

Year after year, those three boys continued to come on my birthday, sometimes bringing flowers or sometimes brownies, always visiting with our family. I never expected them to come all those years. I cannot even begin to think of words to express how much it has meant to me.

When the boys’ senior year came, we attended their high school and seminary graduations. They gave the seminary diplomas in alphabetical order, and I pointed out to my mother that if Alan were here he would have been first. The ceremonies were nice, but all the talk of graduation, college, and missions was a little hard for me—probably because these are the things Alan would have been doing if he had been here.

Shortly after we got home, the doorbell rang. We opened the door to find a big group of students from what would have been Alan’s graduating seminary class. There among the smiling faces were my heroes. One of them made a small speech, and they gave us an honorary seminary graduation certificate with Alan’s name on it.

When my parents decided to build a new home last year, I cried at the thought of leaving the two fruit trees behind. I told my parents I just couldn’t do it. Finally, Mom arranged for a nursery to help us move the trees to our new place. It was not easy, but the trees survived.

My tree and Alan’s tree continue to grow up together and now sprout beautiful blossoms. Although the trees weren’t much bigger than I was when the boys planted them, today they stretch way above my head. Whenever I look at them, I think of Alan, of three boys grown to young men, and of the message those boys brought to me from Heavenly Father that I am never alone or forgotten.

The three boys won’t be coming on my birthday for the next couple of years. But by the time they return from their missions, I hope I’ll be able to share with them the first fruits of the trees they planted for me.

Illustrated by Pat Gerber

Photography by Roy Sinnett and courtesy of the Angus family

At that difficult time after Alan’s death, the trees were just saplings and Alan’s friends were just boys. Now those boys have grown to missionaries and are sharing with others the same message of love they brought to me.