“Momma, can I go over to Scott’s? We’re going to play some baseball with the guys.”
The answer was a sure as the sun rising and setting. “I don’t know if you can are not. Don’t you mean, may I?”
Rusty rolled his eyes, making sure no one saw but Lady. She was the best friend he had, mainly because she sure didn’t care a wit about proper grammar. Chasing squirrels and fetching sticks was more up her alley. Who cared about can or may? But this was no time to argue. Especially with Momma. The guys were waiting; as was a freshly cut pasture created by God himself for the sole purpose of baseball playing. “May I go?
Momma’s approval was met by glee from both boy and dog. He grabbed his freshly oiled glove and headed toward the front door. Lady bounded ahead, baseball clinched between her teeth. Just tight enough to ensure she held on but light enough she didn’t get in trouble for leaving teeth marks.
As he exited the house, Rusty covered his eyes and looked toward the afternoon sun. Some quick calculations had to be made: thirty minutes to get the guys together and choose up sides; another fifteen or so for finding lost balls; and then of course the time always lost listening to Danny whining about whatever. Still light enough for three or four innings.
Lady looked back, baseball clinched in her grinning face. Rusty laughed as he imagined her thoughts. “Let’s get out of here before anything messes up our fun.”
Laughter turned to horror as Momma’s voice carried across the front yard. “Rusty, did you hoe the garden yet?” No words could have chilled the blood of a little boy’s blood quicker than those.
Rusty thought of the garden. Rows of peas and butterbeans growing against all odds in the red clay soil of their Louisiana home. Most people called the dirt, Gumbo. Useless was Rusty’s name for it. The stuff rolled up in balls at the point of a hand plow and had to be constantly pulverized to be of any use. Nothing grew of its own accord in their garden accept of course for the weeds. Without being planted or cared for they sprang up everywhere. They were the bane of a boy’s existence, placed there by the devil to torment boys and keep them out of that paradise called a baseball field.
The devil and everyone else knew nothing got done if the garden wasn’t cared for. Lady stopped short and dropped the ball from her mouth. She fell to the ground, head between front paws, eyes cast down. She knew the jig was up. No baseball today. Just weeds.
At just that moment Rusty’s father drove up. He climbed out of their old Chevy truck and walked over to boy and dog. “What’s wrong with you two? You look like you just got sentenced to the electric chair.”
“We did,” muttered the boy. “I forgot to hoe the garden and now I can’t go play baseball. “ Rusty looked toward the rows of corn, peas and beans with a darkness in his eyes. “I hate that garden.”
“Take a walk with me son.” Without looking back, Rusty’s father headed toward the garden. Boy and dog followed closely.
“What do you see out there son?”
“A lot of hard work and no fun,” fumed the boy.
“Lord knows, you’re right. But do you know why you’re Momma makes you hoe that garden?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Because what comes from that garden makes you healthy and strong. Those peas and beans are the reason you can run so fast and jump so high. That garden is your best friend son. “
Rusty had never thought of it that way. Lady had, but never bothered to share that piece of wisdom with her master.
“Huh … guess, I better get it taken care of then, Daddy.”
Rusty’s father smiled. He stepped over to a tree and grabbed two hoes. He handed one to his son and he kept the other for himself. “Tell you what. How about we knock this out together and then I’ll go watch you knock some out of sight at the game.”
Lady smiled again. So did Rusty. The devil may have planted those weeds but only God could have put his Daddy here. Maybe this garden wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
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