Monday, March 31, 2008
Sometimes the Child Must Protect the Parent
Gardening was a family chore from which no one was ever excused. It began with bringing home milk cartons from school in January and February so we could cut off their tops and use them as small individual planters for indoor seedling starts. We were more than embarrassed to collect the empty cartons after milk break each morning and afternoon. Each Monday during the first two months of the year we took a black garbage bag to school. Mom arranged with the teachers for us to collect empty milk cartons all week. The pile of cartons would grow until we hauled it home on Friday, the oversized yet lightweight bag knocking our ankles the entire way home.
When spring arrived we spent hours in the still cold air hoeing rows marked by two sticks with twine strung in between, creating a fertile bed for our small plants. Once nestled in the black soil, we tended the garden rows daily all summer long, weeding meticulously so no nutrients would be stolen from our quickly growing plants.
When it came time to harvest, our personal preference played much too large a role for mom and dad’s liking. We purposefully left as many green beans hanging on the plants as we felt we could get away with. But we made certain to grab every strawberry and ear of corn, often too eagerly plucking them before they were fully ripe. Another crop we never left behind in the dirt was our pumpkins.
Over time, we gradually became better at growing the large orange holiday staple. We found the best variety that grew into perfect big round beautifully shaped Halloween decorations. One year, our planting time corresponded perfectly with the rain and the sunshine in the crisp fall air ripened our large orange fruit on the vines.
With an extra bounteous crop, we excitedly picked out the six largest gourds for each of my sisters, my brother and me. Proudly displayed on the front porch, we put the rest of the produce in the back of the station wagon and hauled it to an abandoned gas station on the corner of town square. After several trips we had the inventory ready to sell. With Mom's handpainted banner across the station wagon, our advertising was complete as well.
Once open for business, we assisted our friends and neighbors in the small town as they selected their purchase and after carefully weighing each pumpkin, we’d announce the bill. Our big eyes glistened with each sale, which added more and more money to our metal cash box. When a poor family came by, Mom’s soft heart would encourage us to give away a couple pumpkins for free, and we didn’t mind too much, because we knew we were still making plenty of cash.
After two consecutive long Saturdays of sales, we came home, happy that we had sold virtually every pumpkin and eager to split up the profits. Since Mom’s station wagon was used for free, as were the pumpkin seeds, land space, water, garden tools, and fertilizer, our overhead was next to zero, making for an assuredly profitable activity.
The following Sunday morning, as we made our way out to the car in the early, still dark morning hours, Dad was the first to spot the night-time destruction. Our individually selected, cream of the crop, huge, orange, prized pumpkins had been smashed all along the street in front of our house. Our house was not the only one hit along the street by the produce pounding thugs. But it was the only one where five girls had spent the previous eight months growing the potential jack-o-lanterns. In our Sunday dresses, our little bums got cold and then numb as we sat on the concrete porch and cried, Dad’s face reddening with every tear drop.
“You older girls go to school Monday and find out who did this,” he instructed.
The orders momentarily silenced our sobs.
“Ask around,” Dad continued, “And you can find out what boys were involved. Then I’ll pay a visit to their father about this whole incident.”
Jackie and I looked at each other frightened. Our looks told each other what we already knew. We knew who did this. But we would never reveal that to Dad.
Most certainly the culprits were some fellows that lived down the street. They were hard and rough. Their dad and all the boys were boxers that spent every weekend in small-time fighting rings. We would never want our father walking up the vacant hill to their poorly maintained house to knock on the door. Dad would be greeted with a punch square in the jaw if he even hinted at those boys’ involvement in the prank.
But we nodded our heads in approval at Dad's suggested detective work.
When Dad came home from work Monday he quickly found us watching Brady Bunch on the black and white television in the family room and asked what we found out at school.
Jackie looked at me signaling she’d take the lead.
“We asked everyone and no one has any ideas.”
“I don’t think anyone we know did it, Dad,” I added shrugging my shoulders.
“It was probably someone from out of town,” Jackie suggested.
I nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly with the brilliant decoy, “Yeah, probably someone we won’t ever know. So there is no way you can go talk to them.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Jackie offered.
“Yeah, sorry,” I added.
Then we started to sniffle in the remembrance of our pumpkin loss and the future of no jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. That ended the conversation before our unskilled lying gave us away.
Dad encouraged us to not give up and to keep “asking around”. We promised him we would.
After a few more days of no names and no news, Dad suggested, “Maybe I should do some talking to the neighbors.”
“Oh no, Dad! Don’t do that!” we begged. We told him we could do a much better undercover job ourselves at school.
“You don’t think it was that family of boys on the hill down the street do you?” Dad suggested referring to the boxers, the most likely offenders.
“Them? Heck no!” Jackie shouted. “They look mean, but they would never smash our pumpkins.”
“Maybe I should just go talk to their dad anyway,” Dad reasoned.
“No, no, no!” we begged. “It wasn’t them, we’re sure of it!”
And so our dialogue continued off and on for weeks as Dad was adamant to find the boys that broke his daughters’ pumpkins and hearts. And we were just as adamant to keep him out of boxing fist harm, by preventing him from ever learning the true identity of the offenders.