ONE PECK OF TROUBLE FOR A DIME
Occasionally, my siblings and I talk about how we were raised by our parents. For certain, they dispensed to us a strong regimen of "straight and narrow" and "treat other folks the way you want to be treated", as we were growing up. Papa's axiom was: "Right's right, and it ain't gon' wrong NO-body". It was an oft-heard phrase in our home, and one that my parents lived by.
One time, my sister Ruby was helping an elderly neighbor, whose health was too poor to cope with heavy work, like scrubbing floors. She told Ruby she'd pay her a dime for scrubbing her floors. During the course of her work, the woman watched closely to make sure Ruby didn't miss a single spot. She also instructed her to take a sharp stick and rake out the dirt that had collected between the cracks of the floorboards in the hall and on the porch, where her husband continually tracked in dirt and mud.
While cleaning the cracks, Ruby found a dime wedged deeply in one of the cracks. She stuck it in her apron pocket and went on with her work. Later, after she'd finished the job and came home, she laughed happily about her good fortune in finding the dime.
She was pondering what she would buy with her twenty cents, when Papa asked where she'd found the dime. Ruby explained that it had been buried in a crack under all the dirt, and she'd scraped it up. Papa asked Ruby who she thought the dime belonged to. She looked at him like he'd slap-dab lost his mind.
"Why, it's mine, Papa. I FOUND it!"
Papa knew that it would be a bitter pill for her to swallow, but he gently explained to Ruby that the right thing for her to do, was to take the dime back, and tell the woman how she'd found it. He ventured optimistically that the woman would, more then likely, give Ruby the dime anyway, as a reward for her honesty. In any case, Papa continued, "Right's right, and it ain't gon'.....", etc.
Ruby bit her lip and kept a straight face as she marched up the road to the woman's house. She offered the dime to the woman, and explained how she'd found it. The woman snatched the dime out of Ruby's hand, jammed it in her pocket, and then loudly chastised her for not bringing the dime to her immediately, when she'd first found it. Ruby will tell you, to this day, that it was hard for her to reconcile the differences between the way Papa raised us, and the way the woman had treated her.
A little piece down the road from us lived a man who had a large apple orchard. At harvest time, he'd sell his apples to those passing by on the road and, each Saturday, he'd haul a load to Magnolia, selling them from the tailgate of his wagon, parked by the square.
When they were youngsters, my older brothers, Barton and Ben, passed the man's orchard most every day, going to and from the fields that we cultivated. They passed one day, and seeing nobody around, decided to get themselves an apple, from the multitude that had ripened and fallen to the ground.
The owner of the orchard saw each of them pick up an apple, and he made a bee-line to our house. He angrily informed Papa that he'd watched through his window as two of Abb's boys stole apples out of his orchard. Papa was somewhat taken aback by the man's enraged manner, but kept a damper on his own temper. He told the man that he'd raised his kids better'n that; that he would definitely take care of them when they come in from the fields, and not to worry about it happening again. The man walked away in a huff.
When Barton and Ben got home, Papa gave them both a severe tongue-lashing, and another strong dose of "straight and narrow". It wasn't long, though, until they'd convinced themselves that there wasn't a "blame thang" wrong with picking up an apple that was laying on the ground, rotting. They reckoned that the fallen apples were not fittin' to sell anyway, 'cause nobody in his right mind would buy an apple with rotten spots on it in the first place. Once more, they foraged in the man's orchard.
The owner was apparently expecting it, because he caught them "red-handed" this time, and escorted them to our house. Confronting Papa at the front gate, the man was down-right belligerent. He carried on about "how much labor it took to grow apples, how much of an investment he had", how Abb's boys were "putting him in the poor-house", etc.
When the man finally took time to draw a deep breath, Papa asked him how many apples they had picked up off the ground. He thought for a minute, and said he figured they had eaten about a peck of his prime apples. (A peck being one-fourth of a bushel---a LOT of apples).
Papa asked how much he got for a peck of apples. The man replied that he charged ten cents a peck, on the square in Magnolia. Papa told him to stay where he was, and went in the house. When he came out, he handed the man a dime. He grabbed the dime, shoved it in his pocket, and walked off down the road.
Winter came and went, and Spring was fresh in the air. When it came to planting, Papa had a thorough knowledge of The Farmer's Almanac. He also knew, and used them to pick the best time for planting, the signs and bird call lore that'd been passed down to him by his own Papa, Grand-Paw Jules.
It was an early Spring; Papa told us he didn't trust Winter to be over yet, because the other signs didn't match up right. So, he said he was going to "wait 'til the red-birds started to sing 'theodore'", to plant our sweet potato slips. The man who owned the orchard planted his sweet potato beds at the first hint of good weather. Two days after he'd planted, a late, hard, frost killed all his plants, and he had none left to plant.
He came to our house one morning, just as we had finished setting out our potato slips. When the beds were filled to Papa's satisfaction, we still had a few bundles of unneeded slips remaining. Usually, Papa had us kids throw the left-overs in the hog pen, 'cause the hogs would eat them.
The man explained to Papa that his potato slips had been killed by the frost, and there weren't any more slips for sale in Magnolia. He asked if he could buy any spare ones we had. Papa handed him all we had left, said he was welcome to 'em with no charge; that we generally fed them to the hogs, anyway. The man took the bundled plants and went home.
The following Sunday, Mama cooked us up a delicious dinner. As usual after the Sunday meal, Mama and Papa sat out on the front porch in their rocking chairs, dipping their snuff, at peace with the world. Barge and I were out in the clean-swept yard, having a fierce game of "territory" with our Barlows. The first we knew anybody else was on the place, was when Papa spoke up:
"Hi-dy.....come on in and have a chair."
We raised up from our game, to find the man who owned the orchard standing at our gate. He was nicely dressed in dark trousers and a starched white shirt, buttoned all the way up to his neck, with no necktie; probably the same clothes he'd worn to church that morning.
The man said he didn't want to come in, but asked Papa to come out to the gate. Papa went. They stood there, the man talking quietly and Papa listening, for quite a while. Finally, the man turned and walked away, with his head down, wiping his face with a red handkerchief. Barge said it looked to him like the man was crying, or something; but he wasn't real sure.
Papa went back and sat down in his rocker, without a word. After a bit, Mama had just about squirmed herself into a tizzy from curiosity, and was twisting the hem of her Sunday apron in her fingers. Finally, she turned to Papa and asked:
"Abb.....what was THAT about?"
"Awww, nothin'. But, his minister must have preached one heck-of-a sermon this morning."
"Why do you say that?"
"He brought my dime back...fer them rotten apples."