It’s Better to Give

Payback is a terrible thing.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY DENA SEIFERLING

My dad loved to garden. He tried to grow everything that he could find in a seed packet. He planted the usual green beans, peas, corn, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, and lettuce. But each year he’d also try something with a flair, such as eggplant, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or various squashes, pumpkins, and watermelons.

The summer of my ninth birthday, in the late 1950s, was a gardener’s dream. The rains came at the right time and the sun shone bright but without intense heat. The excellent conditions led to high yields in Dad’s garden—too high.

“Green beans for breakfast again?” I asked Mom.

“Quit complaining,” she’d reply. “There are starving children in Africa who would be happy to eat green beans for breakfast.”

“And for lunch and supper, too? Like us?” I retorted.

“Dad, did you put our extra vegetables in people’s cars?”

We became vegetarians in the attempt to use everything the garden produced. Use it we would, because my parents were staunch believers in “Waste not, want not.”

Mom canned everything possible. She even sent Dad to the store to buy more canning jars. The canning continued until every shelf in the house was full of canned goods. But after Mom had to put two dozen jars in my room, she finally revolted.

“Give some of it away!” she ordered.

The whole family tried. But nothing worked: Every garden in town was overproducing that year.

Then one late-summer day shortly after school had started, Dad told Mom, “I’m getting rid of all the extra produce tonight.”

“You’re not going to throw it out?” Mom asked sternly.

“Don’t worry,” Dad said with a smile. “I won’t waste it.”

The next morning, the extra sacks of garden goodies that had cluttered our back porch were gone. At breakfast, Dad was a little droopy-eyed but smiling. I kissed him good-bye and left for school.

“A large bag of vegetables appeared in my car last night,” my teacher announced first thing after the bell. “Does anyone know who is responsible for putting it there?”

I etched a design in my eraser with my thumbnail while Sandy, who sat next to me, raised her hand and said, “My dad found a bag of squash in his car.” Suddenly a dozen hands were in the air. It seemed everyone had a story about what was found in the family car—everyone but me. I remained silent.

At supper, Mom and Dad were talking when I asked, “Dad, did you put our extra vegetables in people’s cars?”
Dad pretended not to hear me and left the table.

“Mom,” I continued, “do you think Dad did it? All our extra vegetables disappeared.”

Mom got up and followed Dad.

I felt I had my answer. They didn’t want to admit that Dad was the “reverse bandit,” yet they didn’t want to lie to me. So they said nothing.

After supper, I went out to the car to retrieve a book Mom had left on the back seat. I nearly broke my hand trying to open the door. For the first time in my life, the door was locked.

I went back inside. “Dad, why is the car locked?” I asked.

Dad smiled and said slyly, “Well, Jeanne, you know what the Good Book says: It’s better to give than to receive.”


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