The Willow Tree

The 1971-’72 school year had just gotten underway when the telephone rang at our house late one Sunday night.  The elementary school where my father was principal had been broken in to, and the police needed him to help assess the damage.  

When he opened the door to the school’s main entrance, my father realized his beloved 50-year-old schoolhouse — for which he’d worked to create a clean, inviting atmosphere — had been horribly vandalized.

Worst of all, the culprits dipped into the art supplies for two or three bottles of black indelible ink and hurled them with all their strength against the newly painted white wall.

The blobs covered an area about 6 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet wide, with lots of drips and streaks — like fireworks sprayed against the sky.

In my mind’s eye, I can see my tall, lean father standing alone in the hallway, staring at the defaced wall. Determined not to let innocent schoolchildren witness such an dastardly act, he sprang to work. With Elmer’s glue and different shades of green tissue paper, my dad fashioned a weeping willow tree out of the mess.

Streams of ink formed its canopy; tissue paper made its leaves. The ink’s dense point of impact became the tree trunk, and from the auditorium, he grabbed a large flowerpot from behind the stage curtain, which magically shaped the tree’s base.

In tumultuous times like that Sunday night long ago and especially in 2020 — creativity often doesn’t flow easily, but that’s exactly what’s needed. As Julie A. Palm notes in this month’s cover story, “Sparking Bright Ideas,” — “These difficult times require businesses to be imaginative and innovative if they are to survive and thrive.” The blistering spread of COVID-19 this winter and spring turned everyone’s world upside down. Manufacturing facilities closed, the supply chain was interrupted, consumers stayed home and more. However, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers quickly pictured new ways of working (which is one of the creativity exercises Palm recommends) and implemented those imaginative and innovative ideas. It’s really remarkable.  

What are some of these ideas? In the article “Making Beds in a Pandemic,” Barbara T. Nelles illustrates through a series of interviews how bedding industry members have risen to the challenges.

The students never knew the true origins of the tree — even though it was featured in the local newspaper the next day. To the children, it was another welcoming adornment to the start of school. They never knew that pieces of green tissue paper and a bottle of glue had turned darkness into light.

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