As the pale autumn sunlight filtered through the narrow gap in the heavy yellow curtains, an elderly lady struggled to prop herself up against the pink padded headboard of her bed.
Judy Jacobs had been a teacher at the village school for most of her life, and now in her mid-eighties her health was not the best. Judy had retired from full time teaching some time ago but her passion for teaching had still lived on in the art and craft lessons she held once a week at the school. The children at the school treated her like their grandmother and even the shyest of children soon warmed and grew under her tender supervision and never ending encouragement.
During the lessons Judy had taught the children to knit, paint and draw. She adored her work and could always be seen on a Wednesday morning no matter the weather plodding her way towards the school, pushing her four wheeled shopping trolley that was laden with scraps of material and small pots of paint she had collected throughout the week.
On her way to the school a week ago, on a blustery October morning, Judy had taken a fall and had hurt her arm and head. A broken wrist and concussion was what the doctor had said, a few days rest in the local hospital was needed before she could go home and her daughter Jane had moved in to help with chores and look after her.
Judy had always been fiercely independent and even after her husband had passed away a couple of years ago; she had not let it stop her doing what she loved. She had her routine and that was what kept her going, all be it at a slower pace now.
Jane had noticed that her mum wasn’t being her usual bright and cheery self, and when she asked Judy if she was in a lot of pain after the fall Judy had just replied that she just felt a sense of sadness for not being able to get up and about like she did.
“Mum you just need time to heal after your fall” Jane had reassured her, trying not to notice how frail her mother now looked, led in bed propped up against feather filled pillows.
“I feel different now Jane” Judy had half whispered in reply, a lone tear falling down her soft cheek. “I feel silly, old and weak and feel like I may never leave this bed again.”
Jane, trying her best to hold back her own flood of tears, held her mother’s thin hand tightly, as she struggled to think of what to say to make Judy feel better.
“The children from the school keep asking how you are and would like to come and see you, if you are up to it?” Jane replied, smiling softly. “I think they have made you a get well soon card.”
Judy’s eyes immediately lit up and she nodded eagerly at the thought of seeing the children. “That would be wonderful.” She smiled back, squeezing Jane’s hand in affection.
Jane had arranged for some of the children to pay a visit to Judy at the weekend and she really hoped it would make her mother feel better about being stuck in bed. From her propped up position in bed Judy could see the little apple tree that grew in the centre of the lawn, she had planted the tree as a small sapling with her husband about 30 years ago and had nurtured it ever since. The leaves on the tree had begun to change colour and drop off as the winter days drew in and with every leaf that left the trees twisted, finger like branches, Judy felt she got a little weaker. She had explained to Jane how she felt her strength was leaving her like the leaves on the tree, but Jane had brushed off the comments and replied about how all the trees lose their leaves in winter just to grow new ones in spring.
“It’s different this time Jane” Judy had told her. “With every leaf that drops from the tree, a little part of me fades too. Soon there will be no leaves and I too will float away.”
Jane had become so concerned by the comments that she wondered if it would be a good idea after all for the children to visit., she knew Judy was desperate to see the children but would she tell them about the tree and if she did would they become upset? After speaking to the children’s teacher at the school they agreed to let some of the children visit as they had made so much effort designing and making the huge get well soon card for Judy.
On the day of the visit the children filed up the stairs in perfect order, tip-toeing their way into the warm cosiness of Judy’s bedroom. As they entered the room one by one their pale faces lit up as Judy’s familiar smile and voice greeted each and every one of them.
It was agreed that the children would only stay a short while so as not to tire Judy out too much and after half an hour of sharing the huge, colourful card together the children left. Placing the get well soon card on the dressing table at the end of Judy’s bed, Jane peered out of the white framed window to the apple tree that swayed its branches in a dancing motion against the sharp winter winds.
“How many leaves are left?” Judy had asked her daughter. “How long do I have left?”
“Please mum don’t talk like that” Jane had answered trying not to sound cross. "That tree always loses its leaves in winter and every spring they grow back”
Judy slowly shook her head, “It’s different this time Jane. “I can feel myself growing weaker.”
Jane, shaking her head slightly studied the tree closely for a moment before closing the curtains. She needed to do something to cheer her mother up and just then an idea popped into her head.
The next day whilst out shopping, Jane visited the school and spoke to both the teacher and the children about her plan. She wasn’t sure if it would work but the children had thought the idea was perfect so Jane decided they had nothing to lose.
Over the next couple of days the apple tree continued to lose its leaves until it was almost bare. Each morning when Judy looked out of the window she would notice there were more bare branches. With the bitter winter winds howling at her window each night Judy was sure that the next time she looked at the tree its leaves would have all gone and she too would fade away. But as Jane opened the curtains Judy noticed that six little, brightly coloured leaves still clung to its branches. The wind would spin them and whip them fiercely but still they held their own, dancing about but never letting go. Judy began to wonder every morning when she counted them, how they fought so strongly and commented on them every morning to Jane.
“How does something so small and fragile hold on against the power of the winter wind?” Judy had pondered to Jane.
Jane smiling to herself had asked Judy if, when the weather was better, if she would like to take a walk outside to see the leaves for herself. Judy had shaken her head and replied that she did not feel strong enough but as the days went by and the leaves still held on curiosity got the better of her and after a few shaky steps she made her way out of bed and slowly down into the garden. As the colourful leaves flickered like flames in the gentle breeze, Judy stepped her way closer. Holding out a pale, freckled hand she carefully took hold of one of the leaves and to her surprise it wasn’t a real leaf at all, it was made from soft, red cloth and was fastened to the branches with thin, leather cord.
“What on earth?” she remarked to Jane, who was trying to hide a laugh.
“The children at the school made them for you” she beamed, hoping her mother wouldn’t be too cross at what she and the children had done.
Taking a step forward Judy took hold of every leaf in turn and inspected it closely. “They are all made from cloth!” She whispered. “All the real leaves are gone!”
“Yes they are” Jane nodded. “The children made them for you, to make you feel better.”
“So it wasn’t true about the tree? I wasn’t fading away with the leaves?” Judy whispered, smiling and then breaking into a laugh she patted her daughter’s arm fondly. “What an old fool I must have sounded?”
“You weren’t a fool, you were just sad” Jane laughed, hugging her mother tightly.
A few days later the school held a special assembly and as the children sat fidgeting on the hard wooden floor of the school hall a familiar face shuffled onto the stage in front of them. As the children gasped and clapped Judy took her place on centre stage, holding in her hand a small branch to which she had fastened the six little leaves.
“I’ve just come to thank you all for making me these beautiful leaves. When I felt sad and lonely, these leaves showed me how it is possible to hold on even in the worst of weather. I will treasure them always just like I will always treasure you children.” Judy’s voice trembled slightly but taking a deep breathe she continued. “However sad you feel or however bad things get always remember that there is always someone out there ready to lend you a helping hand, no matter how small. You must always help each other and be a community, no matter what.”
As they children all burst into clapping and cheering, Judy felt a lump rise in her throat and as she clasped her hands together and called thankyou to the children once more she had one more thing to say.
“See you all on Wednesday!”