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Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul
Stories to Sow Seeds of Love, Hope and Laughter
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Cynthia Brian, Cindy Buck, Marion Owen, Pat Stone, Carol Sturgulewski
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
THE JOY OF GARDENING
He who plants a garden plants happiness.
Love and Daffodils Forever
It is better to remember our love as it was in the springtime.
Bess Streeter Aldrich
Bill and Constance had just celebrated their thirty-ninth anniversary when Bill went for his annual checkup. Always in perfect health, he was unprepared for what the doctor found. Symptoms Bill had ignored as "old age" led to questions, palpations, more questions, and finally instructions for a battery of tests.
"Just to be on the safe side," the doctor said. When Bill took the news home to Constance, she refused to consider that it could be something serious.
Fortunately, it was April and the gardens beckoned. Preparing the beds for the coming season, Bill and Constance threw themselves into the now-familiar yearly routine. They spent their days, as always, surrounded by trays of flowers and bags of mulch, wielding their favorite trowels.
As the summer progressed, thirty years of gardening rewarded them with a showplace of color. Benches and birdbaths were placed amid the bounty of flowers, and they spent nearly every evening during the summer relaxing and basking in the beauty. The old swing hung from their favorite oak, and they held hands, swinging like teenagers and talking until long after the sun set and the fireflies flickered.
By summer, Constance began to notice a subtle change in Bill. He seemed to tire more easily, had difficulty rising from his knees and had little appetite. By the time the test results were in, she was no longer so sure of a good prognosis.
When the doctor ushered them into his office, she knew. His demeanor was too professional, too unlike the friend they had known and trusted for so many years. There was no easy way to say it. Bill was dying, with so little hope of curing his illness that it would be kinder not even to try. He had perhaps six months left, time enough to put his house in order, but little time for anything else.
They decided he would stay at home, with help from visiting nurses and hospice when the time came. Their children were both far away, one in Oregon and the other in Chicago. They came for extended visits, but with jobs and children, neither could come permanently. So Bill and Constance spent the ending time as they had spent the beginning time, alone together. Only now they had their beloved gardens, a great comfort to them both for that entire summer.
By September, Bill was fading fast and they both knew the end was near. For some reason Constance couldn't understand, he seemed to be pushing her to get out more. He urged her to call old friends and have lunch, go shopping, see a movie. She resisted until he became so agitated that she conceded and began making her calls. Everyone was more than willing to accompany her, and she found she did take some comfort in talking over lunch or during the long ride to the mall.
Bill passed away peacefully in October, surrounded by his family. Constance was inconsolable. Nothing could have prepared her for the emptiness she felt. Winter descended upon her with a vengeance. Suddenly it seemed dark all the time. Then the holidays came, and she went to Oregon for Thanksgiving and to Chicago for Christmas. The house was cold and empty when she returned. She wasn't quite sure how she could go on, but somehow she did.
At long last, it was April again, and with April came the return to longer and warmer days. She would go from window to window looking out at the yard, knowing what needed to be done, but not really caring if she did it or not.
Then, one day, she noticed something different about the gardens. They were coming to life sooner than they had in the past. She went out and walked all around and through the beds. Daffodils were peeking up through the soil; hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of daffodils. She and Bill had never put many spring plants in their gardens. They so enjoyed the colors of summer that they had only a few spring daffodils and hyacinths scattered here and there.
Where did they come from? she wondered as she walked. Not only did the blooms completely encircle each bed, they were also scattered inside, among the still-dormant perennials. They appeared in groups all over the lawn, and even lined the driveway to the street. They ringed the trees and they lined the foundation of the house. She couldn't believe it. Where on earth had they come from?
A few days later, she received a call from her attorney. He needed to see her, he said. Could she come to his office that morning? When Constance arrived, he handed her a package with instructions not to open it until she returned home. He gave no other explanation.
When she opened the package, two smaller packages were inside. One was labeled "Open me first." Inside was a videocassette. Constance put it into the VCR, and Bill appeared on the screen, talking to her from his favorite chair, dressed not in pajamas but in a sweater and slacks. "My darling Constance," he began, "today is our anniversary, and this is my gift to you."
He told her of his love for her. Then he explained the daffodils.
"I know these daffodils will be blooming on our anniversary and will continue to do so forever," Bill said. "I couldn't plant them alone, though." Their many friends had conspired with Bill to get the bulbs planted. They had taken turns last fall getting Constance out of the house for hours at a time so the work could be done.
The second package held the memories of all those friends who so generously gave of their time and energies so Bill could give her his final gift. Photographs of everyone came spilling out, images captured forever of them working in the garden, laughing, taking turns snapping pictures and visiting with her beloved husband, who sat bundled in a lawn chair, watching.
In the photo Constance framed and put by her bed, Bill is smiling at her and waving his trowel.
The Garden Guard
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
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 someonewants 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 henhouse. 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 and 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.
Tom R. Kovach
To Own Something Beautiful
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
During the days of the Depression and World War II, my mother was raised by her Grandma Wilson, a widow with no pension and no Social Security. Their huge vegetable garden was a necessity, not a luxury, often providing them with the only food they had to eat. They survived by harvesting their own vegetables and renting out three rooms of their small five-room house.
One day, Grandma Wilson was out working in her yard when a neighbor walked by and stopped to admire a beautiful clump of irises growing artfully along the edge of the property. Grandma called them "flags" and took special pleasure in them because they bloomed faithfully year after year. She couldn't afford to buy flowers to plant, so she lovingly nurtured the few perennials that she had.
The neighbor, an older woman, walked by Grandma's house each day on her way to and from work. She, too, enjoyed the bright cheerfulness of the flags at a time when the whole world seemed to be struggling. She stopped at the edge of the yard that day as if on impulse.
"Would you be willing to sell me those flags?" she asked. "I surely do admire them."
Grandma looked up from where she knelt in the soil but hesitated before speaking. Sell her flowers? How could she sell them? They were one of the few patches of beauty in her hardscrabble existence.
"I'll give you a dime for them," her neighbor continued, opening her worn purse and fishing among some coins she kept tied in a handkerchief.
Grandma hesitated just a moment longer as she stood and wiped her hands on the apron she always wore. She hated to part with her flowers, but a dime was a dime and heaven knows she needed the money. She also realized that her neighbor needed that dime every bit as much as she did. She must really want those flowers. Perhaps she needed them more than Grandma did.
"You can't transplant them now," Grandma explained. "Not until after they quit blooming."
"I know," the woman replied. Then she held out the dime.
"Oh, you can pay me when you come to get them," Grandma said. She'd feel guilty taking the money now.
"No," her neighbor answered with a chuckle. "I'd better pay you now while I've got the money."
So Grandma took the dime and thanked her, trying to still the regret rising in her heart.
A few weeks passed and the blooms on the irises were fading. Grandma expected her neighbor to come any day and claim her purchase. With guilt, a tiny part of her hoped that the woman would forget, but Grandma knew that wasn't right. She decided that the next time the woman walked by she would remind her to dig up her bulbs.
A day or two later, Grandma spotted her neighbor coming up the street. She was walking with one of her daughters, and they were engrossed in conversation.
As they approached, Grandma heard the woman tell her daughter, "See them flags? They're mine."
"What do you mean, they're yours?" the daughter asked. "Did you ask Miz Wilson for them?"
"No, I bought them," the woman said.
"Then why are they still in her yard?" the daughter asked.
"Oh, I couldn't take them away," her mother answered. "She don't walk by our house. But I come by here every day."
The daughter looked puzzled, and Grandma was, too.
"This way," the woman explained, "we both can enjoy them. I don't have the time for working in a flower bed, but Miz Wilson takes mighty good care of them." She smiled at Grandma. "I just wanted to own something that beautiful."
The Wedding Gift
A gift, with a kind countenance, is a double present.
Thomas Fuller, M.D.
I had picked out the flowers in my wedding bouquet carefully, with thought for the meaning of each one. There was blue iris, my fiancé's favorite flower; white roses, symbolizing purity; and strands of green ivy, to represent faithfulness.
Midway through our wedding reception, I found myself breathless and happy, chatting with friends and juggling a full champagne glass and my flowers. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see a woman I had met only briefly, a friend of my new mother-in-law. In her hand, she held a tendril of ivy.
"This fell out of your bouquet when you were on the dance floor," she said. I thanked her and began to reach for it, when she added, "Do you mind if I keep it?"
I was startled at first. I hadn't even tossed my bouquet yet. And I barely knew this woman. What did she want with my ivy?
But then practicality kicked in. I was leaving on my honeymoon in the morning and certainly wouldn't take the bouquet along. I had no plans for preserving it. And I'd been given so much today.
"Go ahead. Keep it," I said with a smile, and congratulated myself for being gracious in the face of a rather odd request. Then the music started up, and I danced off in the crowd.
A few months later, the bell rang at our new home. I opened the door to find that same stranger on my porch. This time, I couldn't hide my surprise. I hadn't seen her since the wedding. What was this all about?
"I have a wedding gift for you," she said, and held out a small planter crowded with foliage. Suddenly, I knew. "It's the ivy you dropped at your wedding," she explained. "I took it home and made a cutting and planted it for you."
Years ago, at her own wedding, someone had done the same for her. "It's still growing, and I remember my wedding day every time I see it," she said. "Now, I try to plant some for other brides when I can."
I was speechless. All the quirky thoughts I'd had, and what a beautiful gift I'd received!
My wedding ivy has thrived for many years, outliving any other effort I made at indoor gardening. As the giver predicted, a glance at the glossy green leaves brings back memories of white lace and wedding vows. I treasure the ivy's story and have shared it many times.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Cynthia Brian, Cindy Buck, Marion Owen, Pat Stone, Carol Sturgulewski. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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