The Green Wars (with audio)

How I waged a garden contest between
my dad and our neighbor.

Read by Pat and Becky Stone

Raising five kids, my father never had much green stuff in his wallet, but he had a green thumb on his hand and “went green” in the 50s—long before it was the in thing to do.

Being green didn’t sit well with our “modern” gardening expert next-door neighbor, Mr. Green. No kidding, his name was Mr. Green. It should have been Mr. DDT!

“You’re still back in the horse-and-buggy days, Raymond,” Mr. Green commented as Dad turned over his compost pile yet again.

“Great era wouldn’t you say, George?”

“I see you and your wife and youngest daughter out here, pullin’ weeds by the hour. Why don’t you squirt around with some good weed killer? They’d all be dead the next day.”

“My family or the weeds? George, do you really think that poison stays put? When the rain comes down, it leaches out and soaks right into your vegetables.” He paused for emphasis, leaning on his pitchfork. “Then you eat them.”

“Humph,” Mr. Green said, ignoring Dad’s words. “This year, I wager that my garden outdoes yours in every way—bigger, better tasting, and less work.”

“Suit yourself,” my dad said, returning to his task.

“I wager that my garden outdoes yours in every way,” Mr. Green said to Dad. “Bigger, better tasting, and less work.”

My mother gave me competitive bones, so soon I was plotting how I could help my father triumph over Mr. Windbag—uh, Green. My enthusiasm for helping my father in the garden that year had no bounds. I zipped through my inside chores, so I could go outside, weed (pulling out all roots), water (gently, like Shakespearian mercy “that falls like a gentle rain from heaven”), and cultivate with our old-fashioned hoe. I suckered the corn and thinned the carrots, sifted and scattered compost like fairy dust, and prayed. We even planted marigolds all around the garden so their bad smell could fend off bugs.

Some of my best or worst (depending on which side of the moral garden fence you reside on) ideas come to me as I drift off to sleep. This night vision involved theft and hiding the truth—but all for a good reason! Meanwhile, our garden and Mr. Green’s were outdoing pictures in Home and Garden magazine. The early crops—peas, radishes, lettuce, carrots, and onions—fed our family and half the neighborhood. Dispatched to deliver our bounty around the neighborhood, I asked for follow-up opinions on the quality and taste. If I had thought about it, I probably would have asked for signed affidavits of approval. Mr. Green spied me handing out samples and began his own door-to-door campaign. The advantage was mine in this case. I was definitely cuter than him.

By August, our corn stood “as high as an elephant’s eye,” and Mr. Green’s tomatoes looked like they might burst their skins. It was the perfect time to implement my plan.

That night, I waited until I heard synchronized snoring from Dad and Mama. Then I slipped on my gardening boots, put a coat over my passion-pink pajamas, pulled a flashlight from under my pillow, and tiptoed out of the house.

The garden out back changed at night. Rustling noises emanated from the usually quiet corn stalks. Something scuttled away under the rhubarb plant. I gulped and picked up a bucket in one hand and used the other hand to train my flashlight beam. No housewife in a supermarket has ever selected produce as carefully as I did that night. When my bucket was full, I set it down and grabbed an empty one. Then I trespassed on Mr. and Mrs. Green’s property, choosing the prettiest, plumpest, and most presentable produce I could find. (Honest!)

The next day I enlisted an accomplice—and a hard sell at that—my mother.

“Mama,” I said, “how would you like to help me make Daddy very happy?”

My mother put her hands on her hips and pressed her lips together. “What now?” she said.

OK, I admit it, that wasn’t the first time I’d tried to spread honey on burnt toast. Of course, I knew Daddy was Mama’s weak spot. Practical and efficient about most everything, she loved him unconditionally. She always served him the biggest desserts, put on Cashmere Bouquet powder before he came home, and never said a word about his belching—while I got reprimanded for every burp.

“Mrs. Bradley is taking her quilts to the fair this afternoon, and I want to help her carry them,” I declared.

“What do Mrs. Bradley’s quilts have to do with your dad?”

“I want to enter Daddy’s vegetables. I bet he’d win a prize. He’d be so happy and surprised.”

“That sounds very nice. So, what do you want from me?”

“Can I rearrange the fridge and put Daddy’s harvest in the cooler bins, so they don’t wilt?”

“Yes, you can,” she said, smiling.

I brought the buckets out of the utility room closet, set them on the kitchen floor, and got the bins cleared.

“My goodness, two buckets full. You must really want him to win,” Mama said.

“Yes.” In these instances, the less said the better.

The fair already bustled with competitors when Mrs. Bradley and I arrived. Mrs. Bradley put my entries on paper plates and I labeled them with tags, “Mr. Raymond Miller” for dad’s items and “Mr. George Green” for all the items I had pilfered from the Greens’ garden. I had to admit that when I stood back to compare, I really couldn’t see much difference between the two sets.

Two days later, when the fair opened, I pleaded with my father, “Let’s go today!”

“We went last year,” he argued.

“Pleeeeeaze,” I whined.

He still wasn’t interested. But then my mom intervened. “Dad, she’s been working so hard, she needs a little fun.”

He caved right away then. Their unconditional love was 100% mutual. His drum song wasn’t “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,” but “whatever Mama wants, Mama gets.” He plunked every paycheck in her lap and never questioned a thing.

Soon we reached the fair and piled out of Dad’s old sedan. Mama and I steered him to the produce barn first thing. I ran ahead. Ribbons as blue as Mama’s eyes and yellow ribbons like the color of her hair lay on top of Daddy’s many vegetables.

“Daddy, come look!” I said, motioning frantically.

“Well, would you look at that, some fellow named Raymond Miller. Just like me.”

“Daddy!” I screeched. “These are your vegetables. I brought them here when I came with Mrs. Bradley ahead of time.” I was nearly jumping out of my crew socks with excitement.

“Well, what do you know?” I could tell he was pleased.

In my excitement, I had momentarily forgotten about Mr. Green’s chemical-drenched offerings. I walked down the row to search for them. Three yellow second-place ribbons balanced on his squashes and cucumbers. The rest of his vegetables were naked.

I was so busy staring I didn’t realize my parents were behind me until it was too late.

“And I suppose some enterprising young lady entered these, too,” my mother said sternly.

Daddy leaned over to look at the name tags. Then, he started laughing—and couldn’t quit.

My mother shook her head at me, but my dad’s laugh was too infectious. She covered her mouth and began to giggle. Only then did I feel safe enough to join in.

When we got home, I asked my dad, “Are you going to try to get Mr. Green to go to the fair and see his vegetables?”

“No,” he said, “and you will not say one word about it, either. A man has the right to his pride.”

At the end of the season, Mr. Green had the nerve to bring over some of his crop and stick them next to Daddy’s. They did look a bit bigger.

“See there, Raymond, got to keep up with the times,” he said, laughing.

“You may be right, George,” was all he said.

The need to retaliate rose up from the bottom of my gardening boots, but Mama wasn’t the only one who unconditionally loved my Dad. So I kept silent as he’d wished, but I shook the compost sifter I was using so hard some of it blew right out. It missed Mr. Green, though.

My sisters and I stayed in close touch after we all left home. We each claimed bragging rights on pesticide-free gardens and compost piles. After both our parents passed away, we spent a whole day sifting through their belongings. We laughed and cried as each item brought back cherished memories. Then, hidden in Dad’s hanky drawer, I found something special: the blue and yellow ribbons Dad’s produce had won in the “Green War.”

He had been proud of his hard work—and his daughter—that day.

But, like always, he’d kept it hidden inside.

This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #135.


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