A Tree for Nanny Barton
By Maisie Chan
[Inspired by the Moat Brae Neverland Discovery Garden’s Tulip Tree and Aliisa Hyslop’s Tree Stories]
[Trigger warning - this story has elements of child grief, if you know a child/reader who has recently lost someone then perhaps read the story before you share it with them to see if it's suitable]
Charly’s nanny had gone. His ma had told him she was in a better place, but Charly wasn’t sure where a better place could be. Surely, the best place that Nanny Barton could be was with him. He used to visit her every weekend. Every time he’d hugged her, she’d smelt of sugary tablet; she was always making it just for him to bring with him on their outings. Now tablet tasted less sweet and nothing Ma could say would change his mind – he never wanted to eat tablet again. Nanny wasn’t in a better place. And Charly was sad.
Nanny’s one last wish was to be scattered in the Moat Brae garden. But Ma had said it wasn’t allowed. It was for visitors now. However, Charly couldn’t get it out of his mind. It was what Nanny Barton had wanted. One Saturday morning when Ma was busy getting ready, he scooped some of the ashes out of the urn using an ice-cream scoop and decanted the grey dust into a recycled margarine container. Charly couldn’t find anything else with a lid. He hoped Nanny wouldn’t mind. He had a plan.
“Come on, Charly!” Ma called as she put on her, “Moat Brae has loads of fun stuff you can do and it’s by the river. They’ve done a grand job turning the place into a storytelling centre. You’ll love it.” Charly carefully put the container into his bag and ran to the front door. He knew his mum was trying to cheer him up and this would be the perfect opportunity to fulfil Nanny’s wish. She’d had told him stories about how her father stayed there when it was a nursing home and about J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan had played there as a boy. Great Grandfather Michael was from Ireland and had moved to Dumfries with his wife, Gertie. They’d been buried in the cemetery, but Nanny Barton told Charly she wanted some of her ashes to be scattered in the Moat Brae garden as she had fond memories of the place. Charly knew it was his job to make that happen.
Ma paid the entrance fee.
“Off you go now, have fun, “She said as she paid for her cup of tea at the café and sat down by the window so she could see the garden. Charly ran off, making sure his bag was upright – he didn’t want the lid to come off and Nanny Barton’s ashes to go flying about. Nanny Barton was quite fussy even when she was alive, and she knew what she wanted even in death.
She’d told him: “Now, you need to find me a tree with lovely leaves, even better if it blossoms, so in the spring you will know that life goes on. The flowers will be blooming and you my dear Charly can come back and know that I’m always with you when you see them.”
Charly took the margarine container out of his bag and looked around. There was a weeping willow by the river, but it looked sad with its drooping branches. Nanny wouldn’t want to be next to a tree that looked sad all the time. There was a holly bush over by the fence but that just wasn’t Nanny Barton either; too prickly.
Then he saw it!
The perfect tree. It was tall and majestic. Charly went over and read the label. ‘Tulip Tree’ it said. The plaque mentioned that it blossomed purple flowers. Nanny would love it, he thought. Charly checked one last time to make sure he was alone.
He took the lid off the container.
“This is it, Nanny Barton,” he said, “I’ve found you the perfect place for your ashes. Even though I can’t visit you at home every weekend like before, I’ll make sure I’ll come and see you here.” Charly carefully shook the container, until the ashes of Nanny Barton were scattered all around the base of the tree trunk.
Charly held back the tears. He really missed her. Just then, he heard something. A muffled sound. It happened again.
“Oh aye, you found the perfect spot alright,” A voice said. Charly looked around hoping he wasn’t going to get into trouble.
“Who said that?” he asked, looking from side to side. There was no-one nearby.
“Who do yer think it is? Wee one?” the familiar voice replied. It laughed.
Charly’s furrowed his brows, he looked up the tree at its branches and leaves. “Nanny? Is that you?”
“Of course - it’s me, yer daft thing!” The voice seemed to be coming from the Tulip Tree. Charly went closer. I must be imagining things, he thought to himself. He pinched the skin on his wrist to see if he was dreaming.
“Stop doing that Charly, this instant! Come closer, tell me how have yer been?” Charly knew the voice was definitely Nanny Barton’s voice. “I’m here!” it carried on.
“But where? You’re…you’re ….” Charly didn’t want to say the word.
“Dead? Aye I am alright. Come closer, so you can see me,” a body-less Nanny Barton said. Charly inched a little closer. He wondered if the sun was too hot and it was making him go doolally. But then he saw it! He jumped back.
A face in the tree trunk. It was hard to make out at first, but then it was unmistakable. Nanny! She was there, or at least her face was! Big and round as ever.
“Wh…w-what…h…how-did you…Nanny?” Charly felt tears in his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. He was happy to hear her voice and see her face, but also sad because she wasn’t really there in the flesh. A tree would have to do.
“I’m only here for a little while wee one…it’s been hard not been able to see you.”
“But how?” asked Charly. He looked around, there was still no one close by. A gardener was pruning a rhododendron on the other side of the garden. Charly’s ma waved to him from the café window and he waved back nervously. It was a miracle!
“I dinnae ask why…I’m just grateful to be able to see you one last time,” Nanny said. “Why don’t yer sit down for a wee while and we’ll have a chat?” Charly did as Nanny suggested. His heart was beating fast.
“Nanny, I’ve missed you so much, I really have. I’ve got no one to talk to. Cameron next door is fun to play with and Grace at school is good at making jokes, but they’re not as good at listening as you were…are…I always loved it when you put your arm around me and gave me a squeeze and told me it would be alright. You know?”
“I know, I’ve missed you too. I know it’s not the same. I know it’s been awfully hard on you, but we’ve got to cherish this time, this…whatever this gift is! Who would’ve believed it, me as a tree!” She chuckled her Nanny Barton chuckle - it warmed Charly’s heart to hear it again. He began to giggle too. “You picked the perfect tree too. I love it, thank you Charly.”
Charly felt his heart swell. “I know Nanny, but I look like a bit silly for talking to this tree trunk!” Charly couldn’t stop laughing. He held his belly trying to keep it in. The gardener turned and looked at him strangely.
“I want you to know that even if you can’t see me, or hear me, I am always with you. You remember that. You can come back here to Moat Brae anytime and when you hear the whispers around the trees, and you’ll know it’s me sending my love.” Nanny’s voice was starting to get quiet.
“I don’t want you to go! Stay as a tree and talk to me like you used to. Please don’t go.” Charly pleaded. Tear cascaded down his face. He wiped them with his sleeve.
“A good cry always made me feel better. Every time you eat tablet you will think of me and smile. Now go and play!”
Charly reluctantly got up. He hugged the tree trunk as tight. “I LOVE YOU NANNY!” he shouted not caring anymore if anyone saw him. The face started to disappear. Tears streamed down his face, but he was smiling. He wiped them off with his sleeve.
“Goodbye,” he whispered. Then ran back to his mother who was finishing her cup of tea.
“You’re back then?” Ma said. “What did you do?”
Charly sat down. He gazed at the Tulip Tree. He didn't think his ma would believe him about the face in the tree trunk, so he kept his lips tightly shut.
“Are you alright Charly?” Ma asked.
Charly sat more upright and smiled. “I miss Nanny that’s all, and her tablet. Can we come back again soon?” Charly didn’t want to say why.
“Of course, we can.” She pulled out a packet from her handbag. “Speaking of tablet…they had some in the cafe.” Charly opened the bag and took a bite. It was the sweetest piece of tablet he’d eaten since Nanny Barton had died.
“Thanks Ma,” he said. “It’s great.” And for once everything really was.