In the city of Nagasaki on the Japanese island of Kyushu three people lived for 20 years hoping for a miracle.
So begins a lovely little story called "The Miracle Tree," written by Christobel Mattingley and illustrated by Marianne Yamaguchi. "The Miracle Tree" is nominated for a Utah Book Award this year.Taro was a gardner. As a young man he had gone to the war, leaving behind his new bride. Her skin was as smooth as a camellia petal, her hair was as shiny as a crow's wing, her eyes sparkled like pools in the sun, and her voice was as sweet as a nightingale's.
The thought of her beauty kept Taro's spirit alive all through the dark days and nights of fear and fighting, chaos and killing. And when at last the war ended, Taro decided that he would never kill or destroy again. He wanted only to live in peace with his beautiful wife and to create beauty by growing plants.
Because she is a member of the PTA at Boulton Elementary School in Bountiful and because she is interested in children's literature, Kathy Criddle happened to read "The Miracle Tree." She was charmed by the story of Taro and his crippled mother-in-law - who spent the years after World War II looking for their wife and daughter. "This story could really have happened. There must have been a woman in Nagasaki who didn't remember her name after living through the atomic bomb," says Criddle.
Taro went to the hospitals hoping to find her. He would describe her. "She is very beautiful. Her skin is like a camellia petal. . . ." Then the statement came, again and again, which chilled his heart. "No one is beautiful who has suffered atomic blast."
While Taro searched, his mother-in-law folded paper into birds. According to Japanese tradition, if someone makes a thousand paper cranes her wish will come true. School children in Japan spend their spare time folding the complicated little cranes (instead of paper airplanes) and take them, 1,000 at a time, to a peace memorial. Their wish is always the same - no more wars.
Criddle decided to teach the story and art of paperfolding (called origami) to every child at Boulton Elementary. Julie Nielson and Sidney Dibble helped her organize the project.
PTA members donated 84 hours of volunteer time in one week. They read the story to those too young to read it themselves and helped the tiny fingers fold a simple bird, while the older children made cranes.
The week before Christmas there were 1,000 colorful cranes wound around the tree in the school library. It reminded the Bountiful children of another tree, the miracle tree that Taro tended and pruned and cared for during 20 long years. Until he found his wife.
The woman sitting by the window had skin as ridged as pine bark and hair as tufty as unplucked pine needles. Her voice as she bade them enter was as dry and thin as a rustle of paper. But her eyes, which were full of tears, sparkled like pools in the sun as she looked at the gardener and the woman with the bent back.