Friday, July 6, 2007

Magic Box of Answers, Knockaway Trees, and Oliver Wendell Holmes

My 95 year old dad steadfastly refuses to use a computer, but I think if I had grabbed his interest 10 years ago I could have hooked him in. Now he saves up all his questions for my visits and is an Internet fan, even if he is not going to surf the net himself. This past weekend he was dazzled four times, with the questions showing the wide range of interests his active mind wants to pursue. First, he wondered about the asking price for a house on the market across the street from his. No problem, just a quick visit to the realtor for that answer. Next, we were riding down by the Blanco River near his San Marcos, TX home and he commented, "those are knockaway trees.” Immediately he added…is that a real tree? I can’t find it in any of my books (he has every field guide he could possibly want). So I searched for that term, and delighted him with an answer straight from his alma mater, Texas A&M website:

The knockaway tree is really the Anaqua Tree, and the beautiful specimens we saw are actually a bit north for their range. It is easy to see how they got to be called knockway, as a derivation of the true name. Next we were discussing an unusual dove I had seen in my yard recently, and I found it and showed him a picture of the Eurasian Collared Dove,

Finally, and this is a bit touching, he asked me if I could find a poem for him, that he remembered from college English class. All he could recall was a phrase, “his nose is thin, and it rests upon his chin like a staff.” I found the poem, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, called “The Last Leaf."

I have to think that this poem reflects where he is in life. He is the last leaf hanging from the bough, with all the others, his friends and loved ones, having fallen and new green ones replacing them. But he remains remarkably inquisitive, and I know the next time I see him he will probably have another list of things for me to look up.

At the end of our explorations, he was once again impressed with the ease at which I could find all these answers. I gave my laptop a little hug and said, “This is my magic box of answers. I wish I had had it as a kid!” I know today’s kids take all this for granted, but it is still fun for me to share the wonderfully accessible wealth of information just a few clicks away. If you have an Internet resistant oldster in your life, try just sharing with your searching answering his or her questions. You might find that soon that person is searching away on his own. Or if not, you still have had a very rewarding exchange.


  1. The "knockaway" trees smell heavenly when they are blooming. The flowers are tiny but very fragrant. I have an aunt that I know would love the "magic box of answers". I don't think she is Internet resistant, I just need to catch her and get her to sit down in front of it long enough to show her. She loves history and I have often told her about the endless number of resources available on the Web. Soon...

  2. I think I love your dad....and you! Great story