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Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Now it’s full steam ahead to Christmas. I’ve been pondering gift ideas for my loved ones and trying to think of the perfect thing for everyone on my list. But as I was reminded a few months ago, when it comes to my children the perfect toy doesn’t always come from a store. Let me explain…

My parents live in the country on an acreage filled with lots of trees. This summer, one of the tall oak trees in their back yard was damaged during a thunderstorm. At the start of Labor Day weekend, my dad and my brother carefully cut the tree down and began the process of trimming off limbs.

The tree was about 50 feet long and lay stretched across their lawn. While they trimmed at one end of the tree, my kids and my three-year-old nephew discovered a wonderful new playland on the other end. They climbed branches, walked across logs, swung from limbs. They were in heaven!

My brother could see the fun they were having and decided to hang a tow rope he and my dad had used to bring down the tree from a branch, thus creating a rope swing.

Then my mom got out a saddle and tied it over a limb to ride like a horse. She then found an old toddler swing and strung it up. But it turned out all the kids had outgrown the swing. They could get in but getting out was a challenge each child only wanted to take once. Instead, a children’s table was pulled over so the kids could stand on it and jump to a limb just out of reach and bounce away.

My brother and my mom have an incredible talent for looking at something through a child’s eye and seeing how to make it even better. The downed tree became an amazing homemade jungle gym.

The unexpected fun this tree created completely changed my dad’s plans as he had intended to cut the tree up and haul it off to his wood pile during the holiday weekend. Instead, our kids spent hours and hours playing on the tree; so much, in fact, that the bark on one of the branches they swung from the most was smooth by the end of the weekend and the grass was worn away underneath! So it remained through the long weekend. It remained through September. It remained through the fall. The kids played and played and played. And we all, my dad included, enjoyed watching them and occasionally joined in on the fun with a swing on the rope.

On Labor Day weekend when our kids were first enjoying their new tree wonderland, my brother remarked how cool it would be in the winter to let the snow drift up to it, create a fort with tunnels and jump off the limbs into the snow.

My dad scoffed at the idea and adamantly declared it would NOT still be in his yard come winter.

Well, a grandpa’s love runs deep. What’s a guy to do when he sees his beloved grandchildren playing endlessly in the backyard he loves? It’s the end of November. That tree is still laying in his yard. I think it’s about to become a snow covered tree wonderland.

And I can say with certainty, nothing I buy my kids this Christmas will be played with as much as they’ve played with their homegrown tree wonderland.

Addie Rugland is a freelance writer who lives in Northwood with her husband, daughter and son.


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