Posts Tagged ‘The Old Oaken Bucket’

Master, I Do Not Want to Die by the Axe.

June 12, 2009
"The Apple Tree" by Susan Hunt-Wulkowicz

"The Apple Tree" by Susan Hunt-Wulkowicz

What do an old apple tree and Samuel Woodworth have in common? Read this story, then click on the link that follows it to see if there might be a connection.

This story was actually printed with a news article about the descendants of an Ohio pioneer who chopped down the old apple orchards on the family homestead. I will be posting that article separately at a later date.


“What meanest thou, oh ax man?” said the old appletree to its master one beautiful morning as he raised his newly ground ax to strike down the hoary monarch in the door yard.

“Would you slay me as you have all of my relatives? What meanest thou? Would you lay low the head of an old friend? Have not I grown modestly here, done the best I could to make everyone happy?”

“Yes,” said the husbandman, “that is all true. You are old and feeble  and the little fruit you bear is sour and knotty; your limbs are week and crippled and you are no longer a joy to yourself or your friends, and the place you occupy could be better filled with a young poplar or elm.”

“You are very kind, master, but did it ever occur to you that new advantages can compensate for the abuse of old friendship. Are you sure I am so decrepit and worthless. I do not feel so. If I did my old age would not be less happy to myself and the sacred memory of other days. I have stood in this place more than seventy years.

Your great grandmother set me out when she was a sunny maiden of sixteen summers with her own tiny hands. I was little and tender then. She watched over me, and when the hot days dried my roots she always came with a pail of water and refreshed me and I was happy. When winter came she wrapped my body with long straw so I should not freeze. She used to dig about me and train my boughs, and how I grew. I used to wave my branches in the summer breeze and sing as loud as I could for I was happy.

When I had grown big enough, early one spring the tips of my twigs began to swell, and before I knew it I was covered with beautiful fragrant blossoms and I was the proudest tree in the world, and when mid summer came I had a full bushel of apples hanging on me, and whenever my little mistress came near I tried to drop one of the best in her lap. I was a full grown tree when your grandfather used to come courting her eldest daughter.

Your dear good grandfather, many a time did he tie the reins of his horse to one of my limbs and sit talking till midnight while the impatient beast surged and chaffed my boughs and tore the tender bark from my body as high as he could reach. Many a time did the young couple keep moonlight watch under my quiet shade. I loved tose young people for the sake of the maiden that planted me. If you will look on my left side you will see there initials cut with one of your grand fathers’ pocket knives one bright afternoon in June where the edge struck through to the quick. I am sure I must have shed tears, but I spoke not a word; I knew the wound would soon heal and I should bear the honorable scar to future generations.

Your father and mother when children used to play under my branches, and I remember when you was born. The neighbors all came to bring their greeting to the first and only son they had under my branches that evening, it was in May when I was in full bloom and moved myself softly in the gentle breeze so that the company might be made as happy as possible with my fragrance. I was always glad to make others happy.

I have rocked the birds many years in my arms; the robins have built their nests every spring in the forks of my limbs, until I find my bark is decaying and my heart is much affected, but I have done this for the good of others, and I never was much happier than when the butterflies lit on my blossoms and a thousand bees hummed the song of honey getting about my head. I never was a jealous tree.

My neighbor cherry in the garden is not as old as I. Neighbor cherry used to be pruned, trained and cultivated, and I was always glad of her good luck. I used to wave my hands to her over the roof when the summer gale was blowing and her red fruit hung in clusters, and I used to think happy cherry tree, and when your harvest is gone mine will be ripe.

I know I am not so tall and graceful as the poplar that grew back of the house, nor so sturdy as the oak, nor so stately as the pine. I am only a humble old fashioned apple tree. I have been more useful than ornamental, and if my fellow poplar and oak, and my old fellow pine look better than I it must be remembered that they have had less to do. They lived a life of idleness. Neighbor oak has borne a few handfuls of acorns every year, but what is that for such a sturdy fellow? Friend poplar and friend pine have only produced a few burs and cones, but no food, while I have turned out bushels and bushels of apples every year.

I acknowledge that my fruit is not so good as formerly, but, master, please think that I have always been a small eater and have furnished my own clothes. I have not been pruned for fifty years nor had a morsel of manure nor a spade about my roots. The caterpillars have built their nests in my branches and eaten my leaves; the children have hung their swings on my arms and seesawed until I was thrown into a rack of pain, but now I do not want to be slain with a stroke on the plea of uselessness without an honest attempt at self vindication.

Master, I do not want to die by the axe. Spare me yet a few years and see if I do not bless you and yours. Feed me with a little new earth, plow about my roots, trim out my old branches, clean out my old wounds and bind them up with wax and I shall feel young again and be a good tree for many years.”

The old tree’s appeal touched the axman’s heart and he withheld his hand and turned away towards the old well at the back of the house from which your father and grandfather had drank many a cooling draught from

“The old oaken bucket,
The iron bound bucket,
The moss covered bucket
That hung in the well.”


Sandusky Daily Register (Sandusky, Ohio) Dec 29, 1890

Now read about the remains of Samuel Woodworth, the author of “The Old Oaken Bucket.” I have also linked to the story behind the poem, which includes the actual poem as well.

Since this story about the apple tree was printed in 1890, and Woodworth’s remains were removed from his tomb around 1900, I wouldn’t think W.D. Gurley was intending any connection, but it seems an ironic coincidence.

I have long enjoyed “The Old Oaken Bucket,” perhaps because it reminds me of the silly song,  “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” that we used to sing in Girl Scouts. I know, really not much similarity, other than the “bucket” and some repetition.