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“Hey, while you were napping it happened—just like we told you,” said the bronzed counselor, standing in the screened doorway of the log cabin, his toothy smile, still taut with braces. We turned over on our damp mats, then rubbed sleep from our eyes, then stood up. He waited as we put away the smelly mats, then followed everyone outside. This was Camp Sebago, 1941, long since, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

In front of us grew The Magic Tree that seemed to increase its height and girth, from one day to the next, especially noticeable on Mondays, our return to camp. Some wanted to spend the night at its base and watch it happen. If you stood beneath it, it was impossible to glimpse the sky; it just went up and up. No other tree was like it in the world.

For weeks, we’d been reminded that if we continued being good, the Magic Tree would give us a surprise.

Dusty T-shirts and shorts and sandals formed concentric circles around our talisman as excitement mounted like flashing fountains reaching for the skies.

Then, the Magic Tree’s treat slowly unfolded as counselors put together the story: they, alone, were privy as to how it all happened. While we were sleeping, the Magic Tree gave birth to the watermelon secured to that upper limb lest it fall. So, that was it! We marveled. Everyone gasped as other counselors lowered it with ropes, then began cutting into the sweet meat. In no time, my chubby hands, juiced with my slice, engulfed it whole and wanted more.

In later years theologians superimposed the Tree of Life upon the Magic Tree; the Messianic Banquet, upon the watermelon. From whatever angle I view this experience, it was all gift from Precious God. In many ways, I’m still that hungry child who wants more…

“Just a little more—Easy—Just a little more—There! That’s it,” barked the seasoned supervisor, wearing hardhat and DayGlo vest, as he waved to the driver seated in the cab of the concrete mixer. As the drum ground to a halt, another workman power-hosed the trough before the next pour.     

The ten-member crew from the woman-owned Sweetens Concrete Services had been working on our court for two weeks, the final phase of replacing a malfunctioning storm sewer. This afternoon’s work brought them to the front of my bungalow, and I had to watch.

The guys, also wearing rubber boots and other protective gear, knew exactly what to do. Some smoothed the wet concrete to the edges of long boards secured in the ground by spikes; some, with rakes, filled out the designated area; some moved long-handled placers, appearing like wide maintenance brooms, for further smoothing; some knelt by the curb and, with trowels, edgers, and groovers continued the smoothing.

After perhaps five minutes, the supervisor turned on the vibratory plate compactor and slowly swept it over the new concrete, giving it the appearance of the street next to it. More tweaking with long-handled brushes left striations on the surface to prevent falls when rain-soaked.

Significant lessons surfaced as I went indoors. More than evident were the crew’s precision, their practiced eye, and their hardened bodies; their camaraderie added brightness and color to the afternoon. But painfully as well was how I’d taken concrete streets and sidewalks for granted for my convenience, with no thought of the intensive labor involved to construct them.

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