A short story by Edwin A. Salhany
“Change! That’s what we need!” declared the Mayor. “This is a wonderful town, but if we want to keep up with the times… if we want to really prosper… with opportunity for all, we have got to get out of this small-town mindset and think like the big boys. Bringing a four-lane right through the middle of town will be just what we need to put us on the map.”
“But, Mr. Mayor,” objected a silver-haired matron. “The plans presented take the four-lane right through the middle of the old Square. What are you going to do with the Golden Oak?”
The tree in question stood proudly right in the middle of the old town Square. In fact, the Square had been built-up around the old oak as a kind-of protective ring. It was a beautiful tree. No one seemed to know exactly when it was planted. It had spread its thick protective branches over the park benches and sidewalks of the old Square for as long as anyone could remember. Legend had it that the stately tree was nearly 2000 years old. Sometime back a team from the University had carefully bored a core sample into its massive trunk. The heart was so compact they had stopped counting the growth rings around a thousand.
“We don’t need that old tree anymore,” the Mayor replied. “Nobody pays it any attention anyway. The Square is practically deserted, what with everyone moving into the new Eastside Mall. Why the Budget Office had a counter sit down there a whole week, and except for the dozen or so shoppers that went into Jack’s, not a single soul came by. No one used the sidewalks, sat on the benches, or even looked at the old tree. We could cut it down and nobody would even notice.”
“But this is Oak Haven,” the old woman continued to protest. “Our town is named after that old tree. What will we call ourselves if we don’t have the Golden Oak?”
“I have already given that some thought, Mabel,” replied the Mayor. “We could change our name to New Haven!”
“Sounds good to me,” chimed in several voices.
There was a time when such a suggestion would have been cause for charges of treason, or a tar and feathering party. In the “olden days” the Golden Oak was the town’s rallying point, the source of civic pride, and a drawing card for visitors from miles around. In fact, many of the town’s current residents owed their citizenship to the fact that their forefathers had migrated to Oak Haven to live in the shadow of the Golden Oak. It was no wonder that many used to say that the town’s prosperity hinged on the health of that old oak.
The tree got its name from the unusually brilliant yellow-gold color of its leaves each fall. If you did not know better you would think that they had been dipped in gold. The color did not fade either. It had been tradition, for a number of years, to keep a leaf in a permanent collection at the Library. Even the earliest specimens still looked like they were covered in gold-leaf.
But, times were changing. The quiet of the rustic town had slowly been drowned out by the urban cacophony. Quaint backyard gardens had given way to private swimming pools. And the optimistic can-do attitude of family farmers and small-business entrepreneurs had been supplanted by mind-numbing factory jobs and apathetic corporate pencil pushers. The happy laughter of little children playing along the streets was a long forgotten memory. Even the teenagers seemed to have vanished behind closed doors and draped windows, lost in the electronic wilderness of the internet. The townspeople seldom spoke to each other except for business purposes, each absorbed in the daily grind of making too few dollars to pay too many bills. Why, just the other day, the town gossip had turned in her credentials because the hard times had dried up the juicy stories.
The Mayor was right. Change was needed. But whether it should come in the form of a radical rearrangement of the traffic patterns was still under debate. The proposed road might bring newcomers through town, but what would make them want to stay? The factories were shutting down one after another. Pencil pushers were finding themselves browsing the help wanted ads, and not a few had joined the homeless living under the by-pass bridge south of town. Loss of civic pride had led to the deterioration of critical infrastructure. Litter was starting to pile up in the back alleys, and empty lots overgrown in weeds had become the hangout of drug pushers and those seeking a chemical escape.
Why the town was in decline, and when it all started, had been a hotly debated subject at the local bars. Some claimed it started when the town leaders had introduced the Great Expansion during the last recession. While it had kept many of the townspeople on their feet, some of the formerly productive citizens never seemed to recover. Others claimed it was the greed of corporate speculators and big factory bosses. Many blamed the shortsighted monetary policies of the town leaders, jumping from crisis to crisis, always ready to spend a little more of the public purse and raise the taxes to cover it. Preachers in town used to point the finger at the abandonment of “morals,” whatever that was, but now the focus seemed to be on “the celebration of individual differences.” The problems of society were just a lack of “love.” And a few, like Jack, blamed the decline on the abandonment of the old traditions.
“Now hold on just a minute!” Jack interjected. “I thought this meeting was about widening Main Street, not completely remaking the whole town! I, for one, still make my living off that old oak tree. Those old buildings around The Square are a civic treasure. My great-great grandfather built my building with his own two hands. Made the bricks himself. The timber came off our ancestral family farm. You won’t just destroy our history. You will DESTROY OUR TOWN!”
“Now, Jack,” the Mayor soothed. “We all know how you feel about our history and all those antiquated legends and folk tales. But really… what good are they doing us now? This is a new age! We are grateful for everything the ‘Fathers’ did, their ideals and all, but come on. We can’t constantly live in the past! You need to get out of your antique store and enter the 21st Century!”
Jack did spend a lot of time in the old store. Pretty much alone in the world, he had fixed up a small apartment in the back room. It was against the town codes, but as long as he paid the taxes on his empty Elm Street house, and had the landscapers mow the grass, nobody said too much about him “living” downtown.
At one time Jack’s Antiques was a bustling business, but now, hardly anyone came by except for the occasional tourist. It wasn’t that Jack didn’t have good stuff. He did, and some of it was very good. It was just that nobody seemed to care about the old ways anymore. The original name had been Jack’s General Store, and some of the treasures on display were from Grandpa Jack’s inventory. One of the more valuable items was a gold sculpture of the Golden Oak. Standing about ten inches tall the detail was incredible. The forger’s date, stamped on the bottom, was September 17, 1787. Amazingly, except for a few more branches, the Golden Oak still looked like that little casting. One of its more intriguing features was the life-size golden acorns hanging on its diminutive branches. Family lore had it that the gold for the little masterpiece had come from the old oak itself, although the more realistic members had said that it was probably panned from the creek. You could still get a flake or two of “color” in some of the eddy pools, but even the schoolboys had stopped trying to recover any.
“Maybe I am stuck in the 19th Century,” Jack retorted. “But at least I know what made this town such a great place to live. We used to know each other… work together… worship together. We celebrated our Oak Haven traditions together… spoke the same language… shared a common set of values. People moved to Oak Haven because they wanted to be a part of what was happening here; they assimilated into our town; they contributed and shared in our prosperity. We were self-reliant, accepted personal responsibilities, and helped our neighbor. These days responsible citizens get punished by unwarranted taxes, and the Administration bails out the irresponsible! You have to purchase “a permit” to do practically anything, and you risk being sued if you help your neighbor. Morals are a matter of “personal preference,” and, instead of our history, the schools teach political correctness. And now you want to consign the Golden Oak to the brush pile? Well I object! You are not going to tear down my building and cut down the Golden Oak without a fight. If you want Oak Haven to flourish, restore the Square – don’t destroy it! Take your four-lane somewhere else!”
Jack had always cherished the Golden Oak and the traditions that had grown up around it. He had found that those feelings were even more intense lately. With the slowdown in business, Jack had found more time to clean the shop and straighten up the inventory. One item that had caught his eye was an old volume called Golden Oak Festivals. The binding was coming unglued and the pages were turning yellow, but it could still be handled. It was a commentary on the origins of the old customs, and their importance in maintaining community ideals and values. Once he had started reading it Jack had a hard time putting it down. As familiar as he was with the old traditions he had still been surprised at the influence of the Festivals on the local culture. It seemed to Jack that the philosophy of life embodied in those traditions: hard work, self-reliance, and community were what led to the town’s prosperity.
The Spring Festival was designed to keep the memory of the pioneers’ sacrifices alive. The Square would be decked out in white to match the ladies’ festive frocks. The menu, reminiscent of “food on the trail,” was pancakes or biscuits drowned in homemade preserves, fresh strawberries or new maple syrup. In memory of the oxen, horse, or mule teams that had brought newcomers to town, every attendee would bury a “pasture patty” under the oak’s expansive canopy.
Another festival started the summer activities with a big blowout celebrating the establishment of Oak Haven. Summer was ended with a community wide cook-out and watermelon feed under the old giant’s cooling shade. And, in the late fall, when the leaves were at the peak of their color, the town would gather again to remember their blessings and marvel at the abundance that field and forest had provided. An old tradition was to fill every available container with the golden leaves and spread them on the family gardens to insure a bountiful harvest the next year.
Even the winter had a special kind of cheer, with the old oak draped in thousands of sparkling lights, illuminating the way for the shoppers and well-wishers who came to see the living Nativity scene, complete with all the animals. Whatever the occasion, the old oak had spread its arms in blessing over the assembled townsfolk.
Over the last few decades, however, the festivals had completely died out. It seemed that as the town had grown, participation had waned. The Nativity scene had been scratched due to the “pollution of the animal droppings” and the “costs of cleanup.” Since the big Mall and superstores had barged into town the locals were being forced out of business, so, with fewer shoppers, lighting the Square was just “a waste of energy.” Nobody wanted the leaves. They were hauled away and burned. And, rather then “brave the elements” downtown, people grilled at home and feasted with their families. Who cared about the struggles of the pioneers in establishing the town? Everyone seemed to have a different version of why they had settled here anyway. As evidenced by the cavalier attitude of the current administration, the role of the Golden Oak was a distant memory.
“Fight it if you want to, Jack, but based on the sentiments evident in this meeting it will be a losing battle,” the Mayor declared. “It looks like it will be just you and Mabel against the will of the people. You should be about old enough to retire anyway…
Are we ready to call the question on the motion to proceed as planned?”
“Question!” several voices echoed through the chamber.
“Alright then. I have a motion that we tear down the old Square, widen Main Street to four lanes, with a center turning lane, according to the plans and environmental studies of the Corps; and add a $25.00 per registration ‘wheel tax’ to fund our share of federal, state, and regional matching grants and bonds, as amended. All in favor say ‘aye’.”
“Aye!” rang out a chorus of enthusiastic voices.
“Opposed?” asked the Mayor.
“Opposed!” Jack shouted, drowning out Mabel’s supporting vote.
“The ‘ayes’ have it,” declared the Mayor amid a round of approving applause, handshaking among the civic leaders, and not a few congratulatory back slaps. Jack shot a “come see me” look at Mabel, emphasized by a jerk of his head, and headed for the exit.
“What are we going to do?” Mabel queried, her voice shaking with emotion. “I just can’t stand the thought of them cutting down the Golden Oak. This town is doomed for sure!”
As the early afternoon sun filtered through the oak’s leaves and spilled onto the card table in front of the store, Jack reached for his cup of hot chocolate. The cool autumn air felt good on his puffy, red face. The pair had been bemoaning the Council’s decision for the last thirty minutes, brainstorming ways to garner support for the old tree, but so far every idea seemed to have “futile” written all over it. They did not have much money: The local radio and TV stations were all behind the Mayor, and even the newspapers had relegated their ad to the inside of the back page. In desperation, they had self-printed a bunch of flyers and handed them out to anybody who would take one. Some had seemed sympathetic to their cause, occasionally even giving them a small donation, but most had already written off the Square or were totally apathetic. A few had never even been downtown or knew what the Golden Oak looked like. Once, to illustrate their ignorance, Jack had taken a short survey outside the high school stadium. He had shown attendees a picture of the Golden Oak, a red maple, and a tulip poplar, and then asked them which tree the town had been named after. Only 1 in 20 could even identify the oak, fewer still could give its proper name. The final straw had been that afternoon’s big “Save the Oak” rally. For all the effort they had put in to it, only five people had shown up. Jack had given them a brief pep talk, loaded their arms with flyers, and thanked them profusely for coming, but it appeared their cause was dead on arrival.
“Maybe it will just take a while to get the word out,” Jack offered, trying to sound optimistic. “At least we have five more people handing out fliers.”
“But we don’t have ‘a while’,” Mabel retorted. “They have already surveyed the route and bought all the buildings except yours. Demolition is scheduled to start next week. According to what they told me over at the Planning Commission they are going to cut down the tree as soon as the leaves fall.”
“That would be right about the time of the Harvest Festival,” Jack mused. “They are going to claim my property as ‘eminent domain’ because I am refusing to sell, but maybe I can stall them until November. If we advertise an ‘Old-fashioned Harvest Party’, while the leaves are at their peak, maybe people will come downtown one last time, if only to see what the fuss is about. If they could just see the old oak in its fall splendor, maybe they’ll see that it’s worth saving. The media is always “spinning” the Administration’s projects. We can use their tactics against them. Bill it as ‘A Final Memorial to the Town’s Name-sake.’ Get the Mayor to give one of his grandiose speeches, get the high school band to play, shoot off some fireworks. One last ‘hoorah’ before they demolish the Square for good. I’ll offer to give a speech on the history of Oak Haven, and then, while everyone is feeling patriotic, I’ll throw in a pitch for saving the Golden Oak!” The more Mabel and Jack tossed around the idea the more they liked it. The plan would not save Jack’s store, but at least it might save the Golden Oak.
Time flew by as Jack immersed himself in the festival planning. He was surprised at how easily the Mayor had taken to the idea. Maybe he was feeling a little guilty, or maybe he was just such a media hound that the opportunity to give a speech was irresistible. He even thought Jack’s history lesson would be “entertaining.” With the Mayor on board, the media was quite happy to support the project, with a little purchased advertising of course. To raise seed money Jack’s Antiques ran a “fire sale” on nearly everything in the store. Jack would not have any place to put the inventory after the store was demolished anyway, and the authorities were not going to pay him anything for the stock. To tell the truth, they were not making much of an offer for his building either, but Jack had few options. There were a couple of treasures that were not for sale, however. One of these was the Golden Oak miniature. Jack planned to donate that to the Library, when he passed on.
The big day finally arrived. The weather was perfect. The Golden Oak was magnificent. The newly painted park benches gleamed, the sidewalks sparkled, and the manicured lawn had seldom looked better. Mabel and her crew had outdone themselves decorating the band stand and working the food tables. And the crowd was enormous. Jack could not remember seeing such enthusiasm in his entire lifetime. It seemed that half the town had shown up. The Mayor’s oratory skills were on full display, and even Jack’s history lesson seemed well received.
“Now, friends and neighbors,” Jack intoned. “This unrivaled specimen, the focal point of our history, whose very name we bear, has been consigned to the brush pile, a relic like me, of a bygone era. Our ‘Fathers’ said ‘As goes the tree, so goes the town.’ Our very prosperity is tied to the Golden Oak. If properly cared for, its foliage would be gold-leafed, and its fruit solid gold. Are we really ready to destroy the only specimen of its kind in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘change’? I SAY NO!!! If you agree with me, please sign the petition on the tables in front of my store as you leave. God bless Oak Haven!”
For a moment, as Jack stepped down from the podium, the crowd stood in shocked silence. The Mayor glanced frantically at his tele-prompters, but they remained mockingly blank. A stammered “Thank you” and “Good night” was all he could muster. And then the applause started to grow. Scattered and weak to start with, it soon became a thundering ovation that went on for nearly thirty seconds. Then, just as the clapping started to fade, the first of the aerial shells exploded overhead in a brilliant shower of multi-colored sparks.
As Jack reviewed the signed petitions there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. Five thousand signatures was nothing to sneer at. That was almost 10% of the town’s population. The last few days had been spent feverishly entering all the names and contact information into his recently acquired laptop. Demolition of the buildings around the Square had begun the day after the festival, and about all that remained were the old oak and his shop. A sympathetic attorney had drafted a request for a “Cease and Desist” order to file with the city court, but he needed the petitions to accompany it. Carefully Jack slipped the newly printed pages into the legal binder and headed for the door.
“Just a minute! Hold it for just one minute!” Blurry eyed, Jack stumbled to the door.
“Quick, Jack. Hurry up!!!” Mabel shouted, pounding on the door again. “They’re going to cut it down today!!!”
As Jack’s eyes adjusted to the light of the morning sun framing Mabel’s silver hair, he was not sure if he was dreaming, having a vision, or waking from a nightmare. As he opened the door a torrent of incomprehensible babble accompanied the frantic matron into his little apartment.
“Whoa, whoa,” Jack soothed. “What’s all the commotion about?”
“They are going to cut down the Golden Oak TODAY,” Mabel insisted. “My cousin, Jane, called me a couple minutes ago. Her niece, Jody, heard Joe telling Bud, over a donut at Millie’s Diner, that Sam had received orders from the Mayor to ‘get that tree out of the way’ TODAY! We have to stop them!”
“Thank God for gossips!” Jack replied, as he reached for his still unfamiliar computer. As quickly as he could he typed up an e-mail alert and sent it to his “Friends of the Golden Oak” mailing list. A few keystrokes later members of the new “Save the Golden Oak” cause on Facebook had been similarly notified. Twitter followed in short order, and grabbing his cellphone he texted the final few names on his list. Snatching his hat and coat, he headed for the door. “Watch the store Mabel! I’m headed to Ground Zero!”
As Jack stepped out the front door he could already see Sam’s bucket trucks getting into position. He headed for the closest unit, waving his arms in protest. “Stop! Stop! You can’t do that! Judge Simmons is going to issue a ruling today on our petition. You have to wait until after he rules.”
“Sorry, Pops,” the foreman replied. “My orders are to start immediately, and I intend to have this baby on the ground before Simmons drinks his first cup of coffee.”
“No! You can’t do that! There are laws… procedures. You have to wait!” Jack protested.
“Sorry, Pops. Mayor’s orders. You better stay out of the way. I don’t want any ‘accidents’. Ha! Joel! Bring the two-bit. We’ll cut it up after we drop it.”
“No, please!” Jack pleaded. “Can’t you wait just a couple hours? This is the only Golden Oak in the world. You are going to destroy yourself. Stop, please!”
“Get out of the way, Pops! A tree is a tree, and like it or not this tree is coming down! Over here, boys,” the foreman waved to his burly crew members, as they maneuvered the massive dual engine chainsaw into position. “We’ll notch it to fall in that open space, but it won’t really matter which way it falls. Everything here is going to be bulldozed anyway.”
Helpless, Jack retreated to the doorway of his store, praying for a miracle. The scream of the chainsaw filled the air as carbide tipped teeth ripped into the defenseless tree. The sound was nauseating.
It took several minutes to prepare the felling notch. The old oak was defenseless, but not without resistance. Years of withstanding the assaults of winter wind and turbulent weather had rendered the wood dense and hard. Protestors and observers started to gather. Some huddled around Jack, sharing his sense of sickening outrage. Others shouted at the workmen, alternately threatening and begging to no avail. Irreparable damage had
already been inflicted on the stately landmark and it was now just a matter of time before it was gone forever.
The chainsaw screamed again as the workers started the back cut. Silence fell over the crowd as everyone watched breathlessly for the top to start moving. Suddenly the workers killed the saw and stepped back. Briefly the top swayed almost imperceptibly, and then started to move decidedly in the wrong direction.
“Look out! Run!” yelled the foreman as the massive oak crashed down on Jack’s antique store and the bucket trucks parked beside it. The sawyers were crushed by the wayward trunk, and the foreman knocked senseless, as a massive branch caught him on the back of the head. Several of the protesters were severely injured. Falling brick from the store front broke Mabel’s arm, and Jack was killed instantly by a direct blow from the upper branches. The greatest antique of all came to rest among what was left of Oak Haven’s history.
Cleanup of the Square was going very badly. It seemed that nearly every day since the oak was felled another workman lost his life on the job. Equipment kept breaking down, or the weather would interfere. Oak Haven had never experienced such a violent winter. First, a crippling ice storm had brought down the entire power grid for nearly two weeks, and then a blizzard had confined everyone to their homes for another five days. About the time emergency workers got the roads clear and school reopened, the flu had swept through town, killing several hundred of the most vulnerable. The city treasury was empty, and with similar troubles spreading all over the country, city officials had been informed that they were pretty much on their own. Without money to pay law enforcement, emergency personnel, and first responders, many had gone on strike, preferring to stay home and defend their families. Schools were closed, the stores were empty, and any money to be had was virtually worthless.
One day a scavenger, pawing through the wreckage of Jack’s Antiques, chanced to move a toppled over bookcase. Under the pile of moldy books he spotted a curious round object. Closer examination revealed that it looked like an acorn, but it was heavy in his hand. Rubbing the little ball with the corner of his grimy jacket, the flash of gold caught his eye. Quickly looking around
to be sure he was still alone, Peter carefully cleaned off the remaining dirt and grime. It was an acorn all right, beautiful workmanship too. And, by the feel of it, solid gold.
Curiosity fully aroused now, Peter started to clear the area. Lifting a smashed display case his heart skipped a beat as his gaze fell on the miniature Golden Oak. Carefully he gathered the remaining acorns and examined the little sculpture. A couple branches seemed a little bent, but it was still beautiful and, based on the number of hooks he could find, he had recovered all ten acorns. The question now was what to do with it. Was this a case of “Finder’s Keeper’s,” or should he report it? If it was gold it would be worth a fortune, but if he turned it in who would benefit? Uncertainty settled in and so he determined to hide it for the time being and give the matter some study.
After the discovery of the little oak Peter spent every spare minute sorting through the rubble of Jack’s Antiques. Most of the items held no meaning to him. A few he traded for a bite to eat, or an article of clothing, but his primary concern was trying to find out more about the little Golden Oak. As he poked around, to see if there were any more valuable items to be recovered, another mystery presented itself.
Under the old rug in Jack’s bedroom was a poorly disguised trap door. The stairs led to an ancient, stone- walled cellar lined with old wooden shelves. Surprisingly dry, the shelves were laden with canned fruit and vegetables, jars of grain, and bottles of herbal liquors, all neatly labeled and organized. A quick tally convinced him that there was enough to last him a couple years. Along another wall were several antique ammo cans, and a few sealed gun cases. Closer inspection revealed that they contained exactly what was indicated. There were a couple boxes of emergency candles, and one case labeled “Chem Suit.” The most curious item, however, was a finely wrought wooden box with a heavy iron latch. With one last look around, Peter headed up the stairs, the box tucked securely under his arm.
Back in the sunlight, Peter examined the box more closely. It was obvious that it had not been opened for many years. There was no real indication on the box as to its contents, but the top held a bas-relief of the Golden Oak. Around the sides twined gnarled branches laden with leaves and acorns, and the bottom appeared to be a carved picture of the tree’s root system. The latch was locked and seemed to have no provision for a key. Instead there was just a rounded depression in the engraving that looked like an acorn. Peter poked and prodded, wiggled, pulled, and twisted the latch, but it held securely. He did not want to damage the box, but he was dying of curiosity to know what was inside. Whatever it was, it was heavy!
Something about that acorn depression kept nagging at Peter’s mind. It did not appear to be a release mechanism but, if you held it in the light just right, the edge seemed to cast a bit of a shadow, as if it was not perfectly flush. Could it be two pieces? If it were the catch, what would release it? First, he tried a stick, and then a pencil, to no avail. A marble fit pretty well, but did not do the trick either. Whatever it was, it must have to fit precisely. Maybe…?
Throwing a blanket over the box to hide it Peter went in search of the Golden Oak. It took him some time to retrieve the golden acorns from where he had hidden them. In due time, he was back in Jack’s bedroom with the oak box on his lap. Carefully, he fit the first acorn into the depression. It was too small. The second one was too large, and number three had the cap reversed. One after another he tested each acorn. Number seven fit perfectly. Holding his breath Peter pressed on the golden orb.
The latch opened.
Reverently Peter folded the latch back and opened the case. Inside, on a velvet lining, lay an old book. The binding appeared to be of finely tanned and dyed leather. The front cover was in full color and tooled with gold-leaf accents, as vivid as the day it was finished. Its title? The History of the Golden Oak.
Gingerly Peter opened the cover. In spite of its obvious age the pages were still white and supple. The script was in long-hand, very neat, and easy to read. Divided into numbered sections it appeared to cover thousands of years for it began “In the beginning…”
The hours flew as Peter devoured his discovery. He learned who had planted the Golden Oak, and how it had been the source of prosperity to all who had sheltered under its boughs. He discovered the role of the Golden Oak Festivals in keeping the tree healthy, and strong. And strangest of all, he read that it actually did produce gold leaves; and every 500 years, a crop of solid gold acorns.
As a child he had gone to the Library once, on a school field trip, and remembered the display of golden oak leaves. So, a few days later Peter visited the Library again. All the social unrest had prompted increased security; but once inside he soon discovered that the leaves were still on display. He asked an assistant if anyone had ever tested the leaves for actual gold content. The fellow had looked at him like he was crazy, and replied with a positive “NO!” Figuring such knowledge may have been lost Peter then asked what the procedure would be to conduct such a test. Sure now that he was dealing with a loony, the assistant called his supervisor.
Professor Jones listened politely to the intense young man before him. Without revealing his hand Peter explained that he had heard that the Golden Oak produced golden leaves, and he was wondering if anyone had ever tested them for actual gold. Affirming that he did not know of any such testing Jones assured Peter that, if he had an opportunity, he would check into Peter’s theory.
Something about Peter’s manner and curiosity plagued the professor for several weeks. Finally, one evening, after the Library was closed, Professor Jones extracted one of the oldest leaves from the display and slipped it under his microscope. To tell the truth, it did look like it was coated in gold. There was really only one way to tell, and that would be destructive.
As he prepared the necessary equipment, Professor Jones remembered the leaves he had collected at the Golden Oak memorial party, which he had yet to add to the display. Quickly locating the latest batch, he slipped one of those leaves under the microscope. It too seemed to be covered in actual gold, although the covering did not appear as thick. Curiosity aroused, it took several hours of careful work to confirm his worst suspicions.
Early the next morning Professor Jones entrenched himself in the lobby of the Mayor’s office. He did not have an appointment, but the secretary had promised to slip him in if he was willing to wait. Finally, Alice indicated with a nod, and tilt of her head, for him to go on in.
The Mayor had aged twenty years in the last five months. He looked tired, his hair had turned completely white, and his confident air had been replaced with a thinly disguised desperation. “What do you want, Professor? I’m a busy man!” he greeted his visitor.
“Mr. Mayor, I think we might have made a mistake. I did some checking on the leaves from the Golden Oak and I thought you might want to see the results.” Professor Jones laid an open folder on the Mayor’s desk.
“Impossible!” declared the Mayor.
“I am afraid it is true. I have double-checked everything. Triple checked it to be precise. This is from a handful of last year’s leaves,” Professor Jones responded as he laid a small gold nugget on top of the report. “A similar number of leaves from the late 40’s yielded this much larger nugget. Maybe we should try and salvage that old tree.”
The Mayor and Professor Jones stood staring at the charred blackened stump. The old oak had burned for several days. Any chance of recovery or propagation was long gone. Peter approached respectfully and caught the professor’s eye.
“Ah, Peter,” the professor responded. “You were right. The leaves are covered in gold. Whatever made you believe those old wives’ tales?
“You might want to read this,” Peter said, handing the Professor the carved wooden box. “It’s all in here. This History says the Golden Oak was the source of our town’s prosperity, and, indeed, that of the whole world. We were given the task of protecting and nurturing it. This book told us how, but we forgot. The proverb is really ‘As goes the tree, so goes our prosperity.’ We didn’t look after the tree. Five centuries ago a surge of prosperity opened up this land. Commerce drove exploration and discovery. Science took a great leap forward, and gold flowed. The Fathers were right. ‘If properly cared for, its foliage would be gold-leafed, and every 500 years its fruit solid gold’.”
And Sir… this is the 500th year.”
Allegorical references: Perspective/expectations of reader may open different levels of application.
Mayor – National political leadership
Golden Oak – Morally accountable Free-market Capitalism (FMC)
Town Square – “Conservative” institutions and social networks developed to protect and support the U.S Constitution, FMC, and Judeo/Christian principles.
2000 yrs - Christ
1000 rings – Rough estimate to the time of the introduction of the Magna Carta – (1215AD)
Eastside Mall – Eastern mystic and post-modern socialistic philosophies
Oak Haven – (Caretakers of the Oak) USA – champion of FMC.
North American Union (NAU) “Amerika”, “Amexico”
Schools - Schools used to teach the uniqueness and value of FMC and the American “experiment.” American history was presented as a source of pride, and American prosperity as a blessing to the world.
Traffic patterns – Ways of conducting government and business.
The Great Expansion - The New Deal – 1930’s
Jack – Constitutionalists, those who support the organic intent of the Constitution.
Town codes – Overreaching unconstitutional regulations.
Jack’s Antiques – Institutions that support an “Originalist” view of the Constitution and history.
Miniature Oak – U.S. Constitution
9/17/1787 – Date Constitution was finalized and sent to the states for ratification. Now known as Constitution Day or Citizenship Day.
New Branches – Amendments to the Constitution.
Acorns – Bill of Rights / Ten Commandments.
Four-lane – NAU/SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPPNA).
Festivals – Religious and political holidays that nurtured the principle concepts of the American dream: Freedom, self-determination, personal responsibility, faith, morality, and self-reliance.
Spring Festivals – Easter / Memorial Day
Pasture Patties - The “American dream” cannot be realized or sustained without effort. The “tree” must be “fertilized” and tended.
Summer Festival – 4th of July
Summer End Festival – Labor Day
Fall Festival – Thanksgiving
Winter Festival - Christmas
Wheel Tax - NAU/SPPNA, Carbon Taxes, and other new tax schemes funding government social engineering schemes.
“Aye” vote - Misinformed vote of the majority to move to a socialist system.
Media - Main-stream media support of socialist agenda.
Different trees – Capitalism, Socialism/Communism, and Fascism.
Poor showing at “Save the Oak” rally - Efforts of “independent” political parties, so far, have been ineffectual.
Planning Commission – Regulatory czars
Jack and Mabel’s plan - Birth of TEA party idea
Library – Depositories of the historical records, Library of Congress, etc.
Memorial Festival - Tax Payers March – 9/12/09. This protest opened the door for the potential development of a viable 3rd party, if the current parties do not respond appropriately to the demands of the people for restoring constitutional law, fiscal responsibility, and representative government.
The Tax Payers March represented the opinions of approximately 15.3 million voters, or 5% of the US population. The Conservative movement is gaining momentum, but will it be fast enough?
The Liberals are pushing to dismantle the Constitution and FMC before 2010. Legal challenges are being rebuffed, there seems to be little or no opportunity to reverse the course we are taking.
Internet, e-mail, Twitter - The “New Media” can be used effectively, if we learn how!
Sam & crew – Those who blindly follow orders to ensure their paycheck, assuming others are “responsible,” and that they will not be affected by their “superiors” decisions.
Mayor’s orders - Executive Orders pushing the ill-advised rush to socialism
Felling notch – 2010 election, if lost the efforts to stop the destruction of FMC will be futile. The “felling notch” is ready to be cut.
Fall of the Golden Oak - The fall of free market capitalism will have repercussions that those who are promoting centralized control do not appear to realize. It will be their own downfall, as well as result in the suffering and death of many, irrespective of their political persuasion. The fall of FMC will adversely affect the whole world.
Peter – a survivor: ignorant of the causes, powerless to change anything.
Acorns – The Bill of Rights / The 10 Commandments.
The Cellar - Survivalist preparations will benefit someone, if not the original preparers.
The Golden Oak – Bible: The core principles of individual freedom and self-determination, the bedrock principles of free market capitalism, are based on the Bible and Judeo/Christian morals.
500 yrs. - Reference to the occasional periods of great prosperity and social advancement in human history like the Renaissance.
Prof. Jones – “Officially recognized authorities” – Stand-in for state-supported institutions that “promote” the “progressive” interests of the Administration.
Mayor’s shock - The current Administration is deceived and ignorant of the trouble they are headed for. By the time reality sinks in, all they will be able to do is moan their fate.
Peter’s explanation - Free market Capitalism has its problems, but they stem from the destruction of the moral basis of the system, rather then from the system itself. Instead of restoring the moral foundations, the system is under attack. It will be discovered too late that the solution to the world’s problems was what so many are striving to destroy. The fall of free market Capitalism will result in global economic destruction, social collapse, and anarchy that will spell the “End of the World.” Oh, oh! - Too Late!
The core concept for this story was inspired by ZQ, my son. If we destroy the source of our prosperity will recovery be possible?
I would also like to thank my wife, Suzanne, son ZQ, and friends Verne and Sandy Sherman, Larry Brown, Max Kimbley and Michael Goza for their help in proofreading and editing. Your help has been invaluable.
Cover Illustration: The Connecticut Charter Oak
For the story of Connecticut’s Charter Oak visit
© Copyright- October 2009
All Rights Reserved
Soft cover hardcopies available - $5.00 a copy. Contact for bulk pricing. Edwin A. Salhany 1029 W. Gaines St Lawrenceburg, TN 38464 931-762-2895 firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2007 Nature's Nuggets, Inc.