On thirteen Saturdays of the 2010 season, I, along with several thousand "family" members, gathered to witness a time-honored tradition. I would have been here for the fourteenth celebration on that Monday, but I celebrated in the desert, instead. There’s nothing that I enjoy more as a two-time Alumnus, a member of the Auburn family, and resident of the city of Auburn than driving to the intersection of Magnolia and College on Sunday morning to be greeted by the waving of white, reminding me of the previous day’s excitement.
The trees are more than trees, as cliché as that sounds from an Auburn fan. See, if you’re like me and my husband, you’ve rolled those trees more times than you can count: for football, baseball, swimming, and maybe even a wedding or two. You’ve waited in a black gown in a gosh-awful line for two hours on a sweltering May afternoon just to have a two second picture taken under the oaks. You’ve passed by them a million times in a car and not thought twice about what you would do if they weren’t there. You’ve walked under their branches on a cool spring night as you take a walk around campus. You’ve seen at least one proposal take place in that exact spot. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
These are more than two trees that can be so easily replaced- sure, there are other mature Live Oak Trees that we could transplant, but it wouldn’t hold the history that these two guys hold. These trees are a part of our history as a University, they carry the pride that we have 365 days a year, they have seen countless generations pass under their branches, and they have welcomed newbies and veterans alike to the "loveliest village on the Plains". They are the first thing that greets you when you enter the town. They are truly a symbol of the pride that the Auburn Family carries.
The tradition began over one hundred years ago, in the late 1800’s. It began not as papering trees, but as communication within the town. Toomer’s Drug Store, founded in 1896, was the only place in town that had a telegraph machine. When the football team traveled away from the lawn of Samford Hall to compete, Toomer’s Drugs was the first place to receive word about the outcome of the game. When the score came through the telegraph line, the employees at Toomer’s would signal an Auburn victory to the rest of the town by draping the telegraph tape over the branches of the then-relatively-immature oak trees.
The "papering" caught on and before we knew it, the Auburn family began to toss paper into the trees in celebration of the Auburn victory. The papering began in the mid-1900’s. I dated a guy years ago and his grandfather, a 1955 Auburn grad, remembers papering the trees after football wins. Some fifty years later, we’ll paper the trees for just about anything and everything good that happens to the University or in the town itself. To say the trees are a historic landmark in our town would be a mild understatement. They are original to the town and there’s something precious about things that old. How old, you ask? It is estimated that the Toomer’s oaks are approximately 130 years old. Now that is antique.
The trees signal the love that we have for all things Auburn- sports, graduation, and each other. We roll the trees out of respect for tradition, out of respect for what those before us have done-what they have taught us- and we do it because we love all things orange and blue. My heart swells with pride each time that tree is rolled. I love the fact that I was in Atlanta in December 2010 for the SEC Championship game and when I made it home at 1:00am, there was still a crowd rolling the trees. I love that the city hires police officers to automatically shut down "The Corner" after games to allow fans to roll the oaks in safety for a few hours. I love that the city doesn’t hurry to clean the trees first thing Sunday morning. I love the laughter, the cheers, and the hugs that happen under those trees. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood at the corner of Magnolia and College smiling, dodging paper rolls, and chanting Bodda-Ghetta.
For those of us who have witnessed and participated in the tradition of rolling Toomer’s Corner, it’s something that we will never forget. You can kill the trees, but you cannot kill the Auburn spirit. Our spirit is, after all, fearless and true.