Both my parents, Hungarian immigrants, were born with green thumbs. Our family of ten depended on the food we grew in our huge vegetable garden. My mother canned much of the produce for winter, and my father sold potatoes and cabbage to the local stores and high schools. Our garden was the pride of the neighborhood.
But then, one summer when I was quite young, we had a problem. Someone was stealing some of our vegetables. My parents were dumbfounded. “I don’t get it,” my father said. “If someone wants vegetables from us, all they have to do is ask. If they can’t afford to pay for them, they could just have them.”
Then one of the neighbors tipped us off that an old bachelor, who lived a short distance from us, was seen selling some vegetables in a nearby town. It didn’t take long for my parents to put two and two together. Benny did not have a garden, so he was obviously getting his vegetables from someone else’s garden. Now, Benny was not a bad old fellow. My dad often hired him for haying and other odd jobs just to help him out. Benny had no steady job and lived in a small cabin that looked rather bleak to me. My parents figured he was taking our vegetables to earn a few extra dollars. But stealing is stealing, and it just isn’t right. My father decided to handle this situation his own way.
“I’m going to hire Benny,” he announced one day.
“What?” my mother exclaimed. “Joseph, we don’t have enough money to hire anyone. Besides, why would we hire the man who’s taking our vegetables?”
My father only smiled and said, “Trust me, Mary, I’ve got a plan.”
“What are you going to do?” my mother asked.
“I’m going to hire him to guard our garden.”
My mother shook her head. “What? That’s like hiring the fox to watch the hen house. I don’t understand.”
“Well,” my father said, “here’s what I think. Benny’s got himself backed into a corner. And I’m going to give him a way out. The way I figure it, he can’t turn me down. And he sure can’t take the vegetables that he’s guarding.”
When my father approached him about the job, Benny was obviously a bit shocked, but Dad handled it pretty well.
“Benny,” he said, “someone probably some kids has been taking vegetables out of our garden. I wonder if I could hire you to guard it for me?”
Benny hemmed and hawed for a bit, but after Dad explained that he would also be eating supper with us (and Mom’s cooking was legendary), he finally agreed.
Needless to say, there were no vegetables missing the next day. Whether or not Benny slept most of the night was not important. The fact was that Dad’s plan was working. We were not missing any vegetables, and Benny had a job… of sorts. I don’t think my folks could have been paying him much. But he was being paid. And just having a job gave Benny more than a little pride.
That solved our problem. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Things worked out even better than my father had planned. You see, each morning, after Benny got done sleeping er, guarding the garden he’d stick around long enough for breakfast, then follow us around in the garden.
Now, Benny got to kind of liking this garden business. He’d ask questions like, “Why do you plant these carrots here? How come some of these peas are growing faster than those over there?”
My parents were patient with him, answering all his questions. Then my father suggested something. “You know, Benny, the growing season is just about over, but I could take my team of horses over to your place and plow you up a nice patch of ground where you could plant a garden next spring.”
“You would do that?” Benny asked.
“Certainly,” my father replied. “That’s what neighbors are for.”
By the following spring, Benny had his garden spot, all plowed, disked and ready for planting. In fact, my parents gave him various seeds that he could use: corn, peas, pumpkins, potatoes and such. Benny caught on to gardening as if he’d been a born farmer.
As we drove by his place in our old rattletrap car one day, Dad slowed down and pointed at Benny’s garden. “Look at that, would you? He’s growing nicer sweet corn than we are. And he’s so busy gardening that he doesn’t have time to guard our garden. Of course… for some reason, we don’t need a garden guard anymore.”
We all chuckled a little at that. But our smiles lingered for a long time after, smiles of pride in the new gardener we had helped create, and pride in our remarkable father.
By Tom R. Kovach--as seen in Inspirations Plus