From the very first day, however, things go wrong. Eric makes one mistake after another, and knows that this is costing Willy money. Being a perfectionist, he is harder on himself for messing up than his stern boss. He begins to feel that he can do nothing right and broods all day long over his errors. He begins to wonder if he should just pack up and go home, but being a quitter doesn't sit right with him. At the end of each day, he sits quietly on his bed in his little room under the stairs and asks God why he has to mess up every day. As time passes, Eric is reduced to a robot. He develops a new habit to occupy his mind: from the time he gets up in the morning, he calculates the number of minutes left before he'll be back in bed at night.
Eric endures to the end and completes his time on the farm. Only as he waves goodbye and sees Willy gazing heavenward, does it dawn on him that this has also been an extremely difficult time for Willy.
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Read an Excerpt
Eric's Adventure Goes Bad
By E. C. Unger
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 E. C. Unger
All right reserved.
Chapter One In and Out, Back and Forth, Up and --....................1
Chapter Two Eric 360, Eggs 0....................9
Chapter Three Unhooking Grapes....................17
Chapter Four Spots on the Lawn....................23
Chapter Five A Brake Mistake....................29
Chapter Six Into the Chicken Poop....................37
Chapter Seven Purple Corn, Red Face....................47
Chapter Eight God Closes the Water Tank....................55
Chapter Nine No More Spots....................61
Chapter Ten My Shoe, Your Shoe....................65
Chapter Eleven The Soup Wagon Disaster....................75
Chapter Twelve Seeing Is Believing....................91
Chapter Thirteen Saying Goodbye....................99
In and Out, Back and Forth, Up
wasn't that Eric was lazy. In fact, he was a very hard worker and never minded when he had to do physical chores. He always did his best, too ... except maybe in school. He did not like school. Some days, while he was standing on the wide avenue with his school books, waiting for a slow moving freight train to pass by just a few feet in front of him, he imagined climbing on board and disappearing into the sunset. Once, he and his friend even dared each other to do that. They would run away from home, they said. And from school. They would travel into the unknown and share all kinds of adventures. But in the end, they just couldn't do it.
Eric's Dad wanted him to finish school. Eric wanted to quit. But he didn't want to disappoint his dad, so off he went to high school. He worked hard enough to graduate when he was sixteen years old. Now, he thought, he would be free to do whatever he wanted to do.
But then Eric's Dad wanted him to go to university. Did Eric want to go to university? He did not. He was sick and tired of school. He wanted to have a life of adventure. He wanted to do things. But he didn't want to disappoint his dad ... so off he went to the university. When he graduated, the president of the university gave him an important piece of paper. Eric could hang it on the wall if he wanted to, the president of the university said.
At long last, Eric had reached the point where he could think about doing what he wanted to do. But the piece of paper from the university didn't seem to be of much use in helping him decide. He wanted to do something really different for a change, something much more exciting.
Before anyone could change his mind, Eric bought an airplane ticket and flew off to Europe. To get away from school. To have an adventure. To do something different! Almost before anyone knew about it, he went to France and began working for a chicken farmer named Pierre. He told Pierre that he would work for him for six months.
Eric had worked on farms ever since he was a kid. He liked caring for animals and he knew how to milk cows. He loved driving tractors and working with machines. The only thing that would be different, he thought, would be getting used to a strange language. Suddenly, he wished he'd paid more attention in French class at school. But it was too late to worry about that now. Anyway, how much French would he have to know to talk to the chickens or work in the fields? Not much, he thought.
Pierre had 20 000 chickens. That's a lot of chickens. He also had a barnful of cows and quite a few pigs. He had small fields scattered over the pretty countryside. He also had a beautiful wife named Sophie and three beautiful children, named René (who was six), Olivia (who was three), and Daniel (who wasn't even one). Pierre lived with his family in a beautiful brand new house. It was the nicest house Eric had ever lived in!
Eric slept in a tiny bedroom under the stairs that went down to the basement. There was a neat single bed, a small night table, and an armoire. An armoire is a portable closet. Like in Narnia. There was a painting hanging on the wall beside the bed and another one on the wall beside the door. And a little throw rug on the floor. Simple. Clean. Comfortable.
On his first day of work, Pierre told Eric to clean the manure out of an empty chicken barn with an old Farmall tractor. The Farmall wasn't anything like modern tractors. It didn't have a cab to protect against the sun or the wind or the rain. It certainly didn't have a radio to listen to. Not in those days. And the seat was a curved metal seat with lots of round holes in it. The kind you might see in a farm museum nowadays. Maybe there was a time when the seat had a cushion on it, but there was nothing soft or cushy about it now. The tractor had a front-end loader with a shovel that went up and down, up and down. The front end loader was the reason that Eric needed to use this tractor. Pierre took Eric out to the chicken barn.
The doors of barn were wide open. Pierre watched while Eric drove the tractor through the big doors and into the barn to scoop up a shovel full of manure. Eric reversed the tractor and backed out of the barn. Once he was outside, he pulled on a lever and the shovel went up, up, up. Way up high! Then he drove over to the waiting manure spreader and dumped the manure into it. Plop! Splat! A whole shovel full of chicken manure went into the spreader.
Eric pushed on the lever and the shovel came down, down, down. Right to the ground. Eric drove back through the barn doors and scooped up another load. He backed out again and dumped it into the manure spreader. Right away, Eric discovered that the brakes on the tractor must have been almost worn out. Even when he stepped on the brakes as hard as he could, it still took the tractor a while to slow down and stop. So he drove very carefully ... at first.
The barn was very long. And there was so much manure. At this rate it would take forever to clean out the chicken barn. Eric knew that he could work faster, except for those useless brakes! But maybe he could go just a little bit faster ... Pierre would be impressed. After going in and out of the barn for almost an hour, Eric felt very comfortable in operating the front end loader and dumping the manure into the manure wagon. It was like practicing the same song on the piano, week after week. His hands and feet just knew what to do even when his mind was thinking about something else. It was easy.
Eric decided to go a just a little faster. Soon, instead of driving out to the manure spreader and then lifting the front-end loader, he saved a little bit of time by pulling on the hydraulic lever while he was still backing out of the barn. And instead of waiting while the shovel came down after dropping his load into the manure spreader, he saved even more time by pushing on the lever to lower the shovel while he was driving back. Now, he thought, he wasn't wasting any time at all and he'd finish much more quickly. Pierre would be really impressed!
This was fun. His dad would be amazed at what he was doing. The spreader was filling faster. Eric was feeling good. As he sat on the tractor, he whistled a tune to himself. He thought of his mom and dad and brothers and sisters at home. It was hard to believe that only a few days had passed since he had said good bye to them. If only they could see him now, driving this old tractor on a chicken farm in France!
Then suddenly he realized he was missing his family. He did not want to be homesick on his very first day. He decided he should think of something else.
In and out of the barn. Back and forth with the tractor. Up and down with the shovel. Over and over and over. Ten times. Twenty times. Fifty times. Eric was getting very good at filling and dumping the front end loader. He was feeling like a professional machine operator! Pierre would soon realize how lucky he was to get such a good worker. He sat on the tractor and grinned to himself. This was going to be a great adventure!
But sometimes, just when everything seems to be going along perfectly well, things change. If Eric hadn't learned that yet, he was about to learn it now.
He dumped a load of manure into the spreader ... just like always. He was whistling a happy tune. Then he headed back to the barn ... just like always. He was sitting nice and straight and smiling to himself. He pushed on the lever to lower the shovel ... just like always.
Whoops ... what's this? He stopped whistling. The shovel wasn't coming down! He pushed the lever again. Now he stopped smiling. He stopped whistling. The shovel still wasn't coming down! It stayed way up high in the air! What on earth was the problem? And the tractor kept on rolling toward the barn.
He slammed on the brakes! The tractor slowed down ... but only just a tiny bit. Eric pushed and pushed and pushed on the lever. The shovel stayed right where it was – way up in the air! Eric pumped and pumped and pumped on the brakes. The tractor slowed down a little more. Eric pulled as hard as he could on the steering wheel. But that's not how you stop a tractor.
"What's going on?" he was screaming quietly in his mind. And still the shovel stayed up, and the tractor kept on rolling forward. He pushed even harder on the brakes and he pulled even harder on the steering wheel. He pushed and pulled till his face was red.
Crash! The shovel went through the wall of the barn, high above the door. Now, when it was too late, the tractor stopped! Eric wasn't whistling anymore and he wasn't smiling either. Pierre heard the crash in the distance. He came to look. His forehead was wrinkled and his thick eyebrows curled up close together. Eric's mouth hung wide open, but he couldn't speak!
Pierre marched over to the tractor. Eric had no idea what Pierre would say or do. Pierre looked at the controls on the tractor. He spoke quietly, as if to control his temper.
"Eric, what on earth are you doing?" Pierre looked over at the lever and saw that there was something wrong with it. It had somehow worked its way out of its normal position and stopped working. He pried the lever back to where it should have been, while Eric watched in disbelief. There was no way Eric could have known that this would happen. For a few seconds he felt a little better knowing that it wasn't his fault. But then Pierre wagged a finger at him and said, much louder, "You were going way too fast! Slow down!"
So in a way it wasn't Eric's fault, but in a way it was. Either way, it didn't really matter to Eric. He felt terrible. "I'm so sorry, Pierre!" he said. But he knew that didn't patch the hole. And when Pierre didn't answer, Eric felt even worse. Now Pierre would have to fix the lever, and the brakes, and the barn.
The rest of the day went reasonably well but in his mind Eric kept seeing the barn door coming closer and closer as he pushed on the brakes and pulled on the steering wheel. He was very upset with himself. That had been an expensive mistake. He wanted to kick himself around and around the manure spreader for being so careless!
That night after a late supper, Eric went to his little room under the stairs and thought about the day's events. His first day of adventure in France. It hadn't been as good as he had hoped. He sat quietly on his bed and thought for a long time. He wished he could rewind the bad part of the day. He wished he could redo it without the mistakes. "Dear God, I sure hope things go better tomorrow!" he prayed as he pulled the covers over his head.
Eric 360, Eggs 0
When Eric first opened his eyes, he was a bit mixed up. Maybe like when you wake up after your first night at summer camp. He looked around. Then he remembered: he was in France, at Pierre's house, and this was his little bedroom under the stairs.
After a delicious breakfast prepared by Sophie, Pierre and Eric walked down a narrow trail that led to another chicken barn. This barn was newer and much bigger than the one that he had damaged yesterday. And this one was full of chickens! As they approached the barn, Eric looked at the wall above the large doors. It looked so solid and strong. He tried not to imagine it with a front end loader sticking into it.
Stepping inside, Eric could see a conveyor belt that brought all the eggs from the inside of the barn to the egg-sorting room at the front. A man was already at work beside the egg-sorting table. His back was turned toward Pierre and Eric, but he quickly turned around and smiled broadly. He seemed to be a very jolly man. "This is Alphonse," Pierre said.
Eric shook Alphonse's outstretched hand. "Bonjour," he said.
Alphonse went back to work while Pierre pointed to a stack of flat new cardboard in the corner of the room. The cardboard was for making the boxes into which the sorted eggs were placed. Pierre walked over to the pile and picked up a stapler. The stapler was very big. It was the biggest one Eric had ever seen. Pierre showed Eric how to make the egg boxes and went off to work with Alphonse. Eric was left to work alone.
After Eric had made a big pile of empty boxes in the middle of the room, he went over to help Pierre and Alphonse fill them up with eggs, one by one. As long as Eric didn't think about yesterday, he felt much better. It was easy work.
Pierre informed Eric that he always needed to know exactly how many eggs the chickens had laid. "You'll need to count the eggs. There's chalk by the blackboard."
Eric kept track by writing numbers with chalk on a small blackboard near the table as the eggs came into the sorting room. From time to time, he would add up the numbers. That was easy too, because Eric had gone to university. He could add numbers very well. Pierre told him that by the time all the eggs had come in, there would be almost 17 000 eggs!
"That's a pretty big omelet," Eric thought. He smiled and hummed some tunes to himself while Pierre and Alphonse collected and cleaned the eggs.
When the boxes were full, they held 360 eggs. Each. The next time you go grocery shopping with someone, take a look in the egg section. You might even try to see how big the boxes were. You'll see 360 is a lot of eggs.
Vans and cars began to show up at Pierre's chicken barn. Pierre explained that every morning vehicles came from all over the place to pick up boxes of eggs from Pierre's chicken barn. Many of these eggs went straight to bakeries and restaurants in the nearby French cities and villages, but some went across the border to Germany and Switzerland too. Germany and Switzerland were only a half hour away. Pierre's egg business was becoming quite famous. Eric could tell that Pierre was pleased with what he was doing. With every box that left the egg room, money came into Pierre's wallet. Looking at Pierre's wallet, Eric knew why Pierre was pleased.
Eric piled the full boxes of eggs in a neat stack near the door. Even though the boxes were heavy when they were full, Eric was strong and the work was easy for him. He didn't mind at all. When only a few empty boxes remained, Eric left Alphonse and Pierre to sort the eggs while he went back to making more boxes. He tossed them into a big pile in the middle of the room.
Excerpted from Eric's Adventure Goes Bad by E. C. Unger Copyright © 2011 by E. C. Unger. Excerpted by permission.
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