Grandpa Harry and The Victory Garden

The old wooden rocker creaked on the log cabin’s front porch as Harry gazed out over the fresh cut grass and flowers kissed by the early spring dew. Robins bounced along, looking for worms; bees darted in and out of the flowers; chickens gossiped as they scratched in the dirt, happy to be released from a night in the coop. Chauncey, his golden lab, wandered about on his early morning patrol.

“Well, little feller,” Harry chuckled at the Carolina Wren perched in a nearby branch. “You sure are a noisy little cuss for no bigger than you are. Just be patient, I’ll finish my coffee let you get back to building your nest here. You oughta be glad Gladys isn’t here; she didn’t like you or the barn swallows building nests so close to the front door.”

The Wren chirped louder.

Harry rose earlier than usual this morning, anxious for the day to start. These were the days his arthritis hurt less, he slept better at night, the sun shone brighter and coffee tasted better, all because his 11-year-old grandson, Ethan, was coming for a few days. 

Harry took the paper from his shirt pocket, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and read for the umpteenth time, the note from Ethan.

“Dear Grandpa Harry,

Spring break is coming and Mom said I could come visit you. I really miss you and Chauncey. I was telling our class about spending the week with you guys and helping you in the garden, gathering eggs and they all want to come with me! I tell them that you put me to work when I’m there, but I really like working with you. They all want to come with me. I tell them what you say to me every morning after breakfast, “Work, dog, work!” They think that’s funny.



P. S. Can we go fishing, too? I’ve been practicing with that fly rod you gave me. I’m getting pretty good.”

Chauncey raced from behind the gray, weathered barn, barking wildly. Harry chuckled; that was the old dog’s bark he only used when he heard Ethan coming up the drive. Sure enough, down the wooded lane, a car was shortly heard crunching gravel under the tires. 

For Harry, these reunions of his grandson, the playful dog and himself were those moments that made all the struggles of life fade into the shadows. The lonely nights were erased from memory, the ache of his arthritis suddenly disappeared and life regained meaning.  A young boy and a dog wrestling in the grass was all the things that make life right.

Shortly, Ethan’s Mom drove back down the lane and Ethan settled in for the stay. 

“Put me to work, Grandpa Harry,” Ethan laughed as he tugged on a rope with Chauncey. “Work, dog, work, that’s what you always say! Make hay while the sun shines! That garden won’t plant itself!”

“Alrighty then, Harry laughed at Ethan repeating the phrases Harry taught him. “We got weeds to hoe in the garden. Work, dog, work!”

Harry purposed to teach Ethan a new skill each time they were together and, while some were taxing, he preferred the routine, mundane things because it gave them more time to chat about things on Ethan’s mind. 

“How come you grow such a big garden, Grandpa? This is huge!”

“Well, grandson, this is what I eat. It’s a long way into town to a grocery store and I’d rather eat the things I grow than to pay someone else for it. Besides, the stuff I grow to eat is always better for me than what I buy in a grocery store. I just grew up raising what we ate whether it was beef, or chickens or vegetables.”

“Wow, we get everything from the grocery store,” Ethan said. “When I told my friends that I was coming to help in the garden, none of them had ever done that. The neighborhood we live in has pretty small yards and none of them have a garden except the old widow, Mrs. Jones and it’s not very big, nothing like this. Sometimes, she puts a little table up with fruits and vegetables for sale, but Mom says they’re ugly so she won’t buy them.”

“That’s too bad,” Harry lamented. “I’ll bet if your Mom tasted that ugly fruit or vegetable, she’d never buy in a store again. There is nothing you buy in a store that tastes as good as something grown fresh in the garden.”

“Mrs. Jones has a little sign on her table that says, ‘Victory Garden’, and Mom says that she calls it that because of something that happened a long time ago, but she can’t remember why.”

“Well, grandson, you are actually standing in a Victory Garden,” Harry smiled proudly. “Soon after Gladys and I got married, we bought this place then I was sent to fight in World War Two. During the wars, Victory Gardens were a very important part of our society and Gladys had to start this one all by herself.”

“Why were they so important?”

“I suppose for a variety of reasons, but the most important one was that you could grow your own food and not have to depend on it being on a shelf in the grocery store,” Harry surmised. “When America entered the war, it cost a lot of money and resources to supply the soldiers, so the government gave our ration books. They were little books with ration stamps so when you went to the grocery store, you were only allowed to get whatever you had a stamp for like sugar, meat, canned goods and cooking oil. No stamp, no food.”

“Wow, you couldn’t just buy anything you wanted and as much as you wanted?” 

“No, you couldn’t. But if you grew your own vegetables and meat, and learned how to can them in jars, then you could take care of yourself.”

“So that’s why that cellar you have out behind the cabin is always full of jars of stuff?”

“Yep, even if grocery store shuts down, I’ll be fine. The good thing, too, is that I can use things like my veggies, meat and eggs to barter with.”

“Barter? What’s that mean? I’ve never heard that word.”

“Well, grandson, to barter means to trade. So, for example, later today, we’ll jump in the old truck and load up a few dozen eggs to take over to my friend, Joe. Joe has Bessie, that old Guernsey milk cow, and I’ll trade him two dozen eggs for a gallon of Bessie’s milk. That’s bartering and, when I was boy, that’s what most people did; trade things they had for things they didn’t have.”

“Oh, I get it!” Ethan exclaimed. “It’s like when I trade one of my video games to Kyle for one of his video games. That’s bartering, right?”

“Yes, yes, it is. Only I don’t have much need for a video game so if I was going to barter a couple dozen eggs with you, you’d have to have something I need. What would you have that I would need?”

Ethan grew silent as he pondered the questions. His hoe kept digging at the weeds and he finally stopped.

“Could I barter work for it? Could we trade me working for you for a few hours so I could get those eggs?”

“Now you’ve got it!” Harry chuckled. “Humanity has traded, or bartered, goods and services from the very beginning.”

“So, people used things from their Victory Garden to barter? I wonder if Mrs. Jones would barter with me?”

“I’ll bet if you told Mrs. Jones you’d like to barter with her and trade an hour’s worth of work for some of her vegetables, she’d jump at the chance. Plus, she’ll teach you the most important part of having a Victory Garden.”

“What’s that, Grandpa Harry?”  Ethan asked. 

“Dignity. There is nothing like working hard and being able to provide for yourself. Human dignity comes from self-reliance and being a productive part of a community. A Victory Garden gives you both.”

“Let’s get back to work! You have lots of things to teach me so I can help Mrs. Jones! Do you think I’ll be any help to her in her garden?”

“Grandson, if Mrs. Jones is anything like me, you’ll be the most help to her in her heart.”


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