In his mind, Brian O’Shea was not a farmer’s son. In his mind, he didn’t live on the prairie with his three raggedy siblings, short and stout mother and lanky father. No, in his mind, he was better than that, better than all of them. He was a prince, a superhero, a warrior, a genius, a secret agent… he could be anything while dreaming in that oak tree.

It was a huge, mysterious, warped oak that sat two hundred feet in front of Brian O’Shea’s front porch. In his mind, it was magnificent. It was also an escape from his everyday life. There, he could pretend like nothing was real, or that his real, amazing parents had left him because they were going somewhere that was too dangerous. His daily routine was: eat breakfast, clean the house with Mama, eat lunch and then sit in the oak for six hours until dinner. He wouldn’t bring anything out with him, no food, no water, no toys or book. The less he brought along, the further he could get from his real life.

One day, Mama called out to the family, “DINN-AAAHHHHH!!!! Come and git it!” But Brian didn’t come. He continued sitting, dreaming in the oak tree. When the rest of the family had started eating, and he still didn’t come, Mama sent Jimmy, the eldest child, to get him.

“Hey, Ry, whatcha doin’ in that tree still? You know Ma called dinna’?” Jimmy said as he stood under the tree.

“I ain’t comin’ back down, Jim,” Brian replied, not looking at his brother, but looking beyond the prairie. “I ain’t comin’ down.”

“Now, why’s that? Pops and Buddy went a-huntin’ togetha’, and Buddy got one of ‘em wild rabbits with the huge feet!” exclaimed Jimmy, showing with his hands just how big the feet were. “Oh, and that’s not all! Pops got a deer! A mighty young buck, it was!”

“I don’t care, Jim,” sighed Brian. “I don’t care about your dirty, raggedy, boring ol’ life you living. I want something more than just a simple, lonely prairie life.”

Jimmy didn’t say anything else. Brian heard leaves rustle and twigs crack, and saw his brother had climbed up the tree after him. Jimmy sat next to Brian and looked with him beyond the prairie. “You know what I heard’s out thar beyond our prairie?” said Jimmy. “There’s mountains and lakes and dense forests, and even big ol’ cities in places like New York. They’s got cars, skyscrapers, shows, newspapers… but I hear it’s hard to get along out there. And it’s always bustling and crowded, and people ain’t got no money.”

Brian looked at his brother, then looked back towards whatever lay ahead and said, “Well, whatever they got there has gotta be better than what we got here.”

“Listen up, Ry,” Jimmy turned to his brother, and his brother looked back at him. “We’re lucky we got what we got. We have food, water, the clothes on our back, a roof over our head. Man, just think, in cities, they don’t got no trees like this!”

Brian looked at his tree and stroked it. “Ya, I guess they don’t.”

“And we got each other,” Jimmy said, patting his brother’s back. “Now, look at this beautiful prairie.” Jimmy motioned around them. “The way the wind sways the grass, the fluffy white clouds against a bright blue sky. And we got all these animals: the bison, them prairie dogs…”

“But what ‘bout what we don’t got? We don’t got a lotta money, or nice clothes, or no skyscrapers or shows or newspapers—”

“Man, Ry, I bet we could go on and on about what we don’t got… But what about what we do got?”

Brian looked around at the glistening prairie, his old, creaking house that always smelled of bread, the prairie dogs and rabbits running around…and he realized, his brother might be right. “Maybe you’re right, Jim,” he said. “But I just don’t want this to be my life.”

“Well, it don’t always have to be,” Jimmy responded, putting his arm on his brother’s shoulder. “When you’re older, you can go and explore what’s out there. But, for now, just appreciate what you got here.”

“Alrighty, Jimbo,” Brian nodded and smiled. “I don‘t really notice how good we actually got it, what nice things we actually got. And I sure don’t appreciate Mama and Pops as much as I should.”

“Well, now you will. Wanna go eat your dinna’ now, Ry?”

“Sure thang,” Brian grinned.

And the two climbed down the tree and raced each other back to the house. Mama, Pops, Buddy and Peggy (the youngest siblings) were at the old wooden table eating their dinner. Pops looked up as the two eldest brothers entered the house and said, “Well, where you two been?”

“I’ll tell you where they ain’t been,” Mama snapped. “Eating their dinna’ like their supposed to be doin’! I told you to get Brian, Jimmy, not go out thar and hang out with him!”

“Yes, Mama,” the two replied in unison. They sat down at their places at the table, and Mama set down their plates.

Brian looked down at the roasted rabbit and venison, and potatoes mashed up with pepper and some herbs. He smelled the delicious fragrance and looked around at his family eating. He looked at his parents and said, “Mama, Pops.” They looked at him. “I know I don’t tell ya this enough, but thanks for everythang. I’m appreciating the little things in life now.”

Mama and Pops smiled and said, “Welcome.” Then they went back to eating. Jimmy looked at his brother in approval, then looked outside where the oak tree was. Except he didn’t see it there anymore. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, but still didn’t see it. He thought he had to be going crazy! But he wasn’t. That oak had done its job. And now Brian’s days of dreaming in the oak tree were over.

image: Illustrations via Shutterstock