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The story behind The Acorn & the Oak

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Sometimes, the most important part of the story is to know why it was written. If you ask anyone who knows the reason behind the story of The Acorn and the Oak what their favorite part is, they will tell you it was her. The oldest of four children, and born in a small coal mining town in Indiana, Norma married the love of her life, Garland. Their family grew, and in time, they had six children. Sadly, when the youngest was just ten months old, Garland lost his life to a brain aneurysm. Heartbroken, Norma would never remarry, but raised her six children in a home deeply rooted in love, and surrounded by family and friends.

Norma had a natural beauty and was known for her kindness. Over the years, it was her strength and inner beauty that stood out. Heartache followed her throughout her life. Sadly, over the years, my aunt ended up losing four of her six children. Despite such devastating loss, she did not allow the pain to change her. She remained equally kind and strong after each one of her losses for her remaining children, as they did for her. Norma lived to be ninety-three years old. I wrote the story of, “The Acorn and the Oak,” for her funeral. Written in loving memory of her and my Uncle Garland, and the four children they lost. We dedicated it to their surviving children and her grandchildren. At the age of ninety-three, as my aunt’s health declined, she was asked what her wishes were. Even after all her loss, she told her family that she wanted to live.

When we began the layout of the book, my daughter asked me what my vision was for each illustration. I told her I wanted her to draw what she saw when she heard the story. The story is full of symbolism and Jessica captured them beautifully in her art. We hope you will take the time to find them hidden throughout the book. Although we feel the story is beautiful on its own, we believe that by hearing the meaning behind it, you will love the story even more.

Jessica took an entire year after my aunt’s funeral before she began the first illustration. She wanted to find an actual oak tree to inspire her art. Hours of driving through parks and on country roads left her frustrated in her search for such a tree. It was my cousin, who asked me to speak at the funeral, who took us on a long ride on four wheelers in the country to show us a tree. At the edge of the forest stood a huge, beautiful burr oak. Although burr oaks tend to grow at the edge of forests, we knew this was our tree. Because my aunt lived her life surrounded by friends and family, it was important to have her oak tree deep in the woods, surrounded by the younger oaks and saplings that were a part of her life. We collected the acorns the squirrels had left behind for Jess to have to illustrate, and our cell phones captured the heart of the enormous tree. We had to walk far out in the middle of the field to get a picture of the tree in its entirety. Standing next to it collecting acorns, his wife looked like a tiny red dot in its presence.

The Symbolism

The two great oak trees that once stood in the forest represent my aunt and uncle. One of the great oaks had fallen years ago, leaving the other alone. The six younger oak trees that stood nearby grew from the acorns that fell from the magnificent oak trees. Because of disease and storms, sadly, only two remained. Not yet as big as the old oak, but still beautiful and strong. Those six young oaks are my cousins, those that are living, and those that we lost. Although the story doesn’t capture it, her children were a tremendous source of strength in her life, that and her faith. The acorns that fell from the great oak tree, and the sapling’s that grew, are her grand and great grandchildren. Each one drew an acorn and oak leaf, and we included them in the book. Some even have messages written inside of the veins of the leaves that you might spot if you look carefully.

The little girl in the story is me. The dirt road with mud puddles in my heart is the road back to my mom’s hometown, where over the years she shared many stories of her sister during our long car rides. Twelve years younger, my mom adored her oldest sister, and was in awe of her beauty and her strength. Everyone knew my aunt shed many tears when she was alone, but she always continued to see the beauty in the world around her, especially in her family. She loved hummingbirds, so Jessica painted one into the story. Jessica drew roots from the trees that are entwined, showing the foundation of my aunt’s life, her children. The surrounding trees and forest are the family and the community that surrounded her. With the loss of my aunt, there was an enormous clearing left in the world of all who knew her. My cousins and their children continued to grow and flourish despite the enormous hole that was left in their lives because of the firm foundation that was built.

One of my favorite pictures is that of the acorn hidden beneath an oak leaf. The snow highlights the ever changing seasons all in one picture. The white flower is a snowdrop, and one of the earliest to bloom in spring. It signifies hope. The three butterflies which appear only in the warmer months remind me of faith when we least expect it. Drawn with only the outlines of a pencil, making them appear spiritual promises that life does not end. Because of my aunt’s faith, she never gave up hope of seeing her loved ones again. So, with a pallet full of watercolors and the stroke of a brush, Jessica captured the hope, and faith, that lived inside of my aunt’s heart in a picture.

My aunt’s gift was to look at life after so much loss and still see all the beauty in the world. Our hope would be that your child will find something that reminds them of a loved one they have lost, so when they happen upon it, their hearts will smile, just as the acorns and oak trees do for us. This is the world my aunt loved so much. We hope you will take the time to find the little things that made it so beautiful.

One year after the story was written and life kept us from pursuing the book, I pulled into the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble and sat and cried. I was afraid we would never find the time to turn the story into a book. When I finally stopped crying and opened the car door, there on the ground lay the littlest acorn. There wasn’t an oak tree in sight. It was then that I knew her story was meant to be told.


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1 Comment

Your and Jessica’s creation is magical! I know your beloved remarkable aunt is beaming down upon you both with love and pride! Her story will continue to grow new seedlings and strong trees in the hearts of all who read your book for generations yet to come!

With my pride for you and Jessica,

Judy Cavanaugh

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