A brief interval in the towering crimson, bronze and gold backdrop—courtesy of the oaks, elms and claret ash trees that surrounded the serenity of the village green—allowed the local tavern to bask in late autumn’s midday warmth. The trees honoured the vision of those who had planted them, even while knowing their generation would never enjoy their shade.
Heavy wooden benches straddled rough-hewn tables outside the tavern’s front door, where patrons’ conversations were interrupted by bursts of noise from the farmers who had assembled under the pergola at the rear.
Late-autumn lunches at the tavern had become a tradition for the farmers. Their productive acreages stretched across the wide, fertile river valley and now; with crops harvested and livestock taken to market; and winter sending cooler nights to foreshadow its impending arrival; they could take time to share their experiences and their insights.
Overhead, drooping clusters of wisteria entwining around the pergola beams lent an ambience of convivial competition. For while each farmer sought maximum yields, he knew he could rely on the others if illness or other unforeseen invaders disturbed the established momentum of their seasons.
Extra support had arrived unexpectedly three years earlier, in the shape of a newcomer named Gerry. His potato farming methods were different, and he never asked anyone for help. This puzzled those who knew the local ground rules, but come harvest time they were stunned.
Instead of carefully grading his produce for size like everyone else, he’d simply loaded his truck and driven off to the market—and somehow his potatoes had garnered top price!
A few folks were angry, others were sullen, but everyone was curious. So it fell to Hank, Gerry’s elderly neighbour, to lift the curtain on his secret.
Hank’s hesitant knock on Gerry’s door juxtaposed the authority of his eldership with the uncertainty of his friends, but Gerry quickly disarmed him with a warm grin. Readily accepting the coffee, Hank sat with Gerry on the deck, as their silent gaze scanned the tree-lined driveway towards the gate and further afield.
This valley was their home.
Their warming siIence had to be broken, though Hank was wondering how a ventriloquist’s dummy might feel, as he brought himself to ask what everyone wanted to know.
“No secret Hank,” Gerry explained, “I sorted the potatoes on my way.”
Reading the doubts in Hank’s furrowed brow, he explained. “I also saved time by taking the roughest road to the market. That way all the bumps made the biggest potatoes rise to the top!”
“Hah!” Hank slapped his thigh and laughed—in spite of himself and his friends. How simple! “Who would have thought of that?” he replied. “If it hadn’t been for your price, nobody would believe it.”
But believe it they did.
Next year’s potato harvest saw a procession of trucks lurching along back tracks, all headed for the market and all driven by smug-faced farmers.
From then on, everyone considered Gerry to be an expert on anything from vineyards to veterinary issues, which made his opinions highly-sought at those autumn lunches.
Though this massaged his ego, Gerry realised that a touch of self-deprecation was well overdue.
“Gentlemen, have you never considered how inefficient those trees are?” he asked them one day, gesturing expansively into the golden-tinged oak that towered beside them. Necks craned in response. “Look at those huge branches, reaching so high,” he continued, “just to keep a few leaves and acorns off the ground—and only until this time of year. Surely God has gone to a lot of unnecessary trouble!”
Shock and amazement draped across their faces. What could he be thinking? But Gerry just smiled in Hank’s direction.
“Hank, just imagine how many pumpkins you could produce—and how big they would grow—if you could grow them from oak branches instead of those flimsy, ground-hugging vines! Then pumpkin vines could easily carry more than enough acorns for all of us!”
Gerry lifted a finger to his lips—stifling whatever response Hank might have made.
“Just yesterday I was thinking about this when I stretched out under that tree and looked up into its branches before I closed my eyes for a nap.
“The nap came to an abrupt halt when some acorns fell and hit me on the forehead. That was when I suddenly became grateful that they weren’t pumpkins!
“Maybe God’s Di-Vine Design has been right after all…”
Author’s note: Gerry’s rough trip to the market is a reminder that when life shakes us up with unexpected bumps and twists, our biggest qualities – for good or bad - will also rise to the top.
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