THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The farmer had never told anyone his secret. For decades, people came from miles around to admire his farm, and purchase his harvests from the shack by the road…the ones they could carry anyway. His blueberries were the size of apples, his apples the size of pumpkins, and his pumpkins the size of automobiles. The 150-foot tree in the meadow struggled to hold onto pecans the size of watermelons.
As he lay in bed, a spring breeze gently blew the curtains near his head. His only son was kneeling by his side, praying. The old man slowly lifted his hand, crooked his gnarled index finger, and started to whisper…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
The steady incoming breeze, which ripples the lace curtains, does nothing to cool the brow or strengthen the tenuous breath of the weathered man whose pallor matches that of his sweat-soaked sheets. His son, who kneels at his bedside, unfolds fervent hands only long enough to mop the father’s damp brow with a dry cloth until it is the elder who insists on interrupting the young man’s prayers.
And is this the time, the son wonders, that I have been awaiting since I was a child? Will I now, finally, learn the secret that has sustained this farm with such a bountiful harvest year after year? If so, what good is this secret to me now if I must lose my dear father in order to gain this revelation?
But the young man, even if he had the to heart interrupt his father, can not help but be intrigued by the elder’s tale.
“It all started,” the old man explains, “when your mother took in an old woman whom we discovered begging beneath the cottonwood tree just shy of the bridge at Crawdad Creek. You were a mere infant at the time, and our farm on this ridge was among the poorest in the region.
“I argued that we should leave the task of helping the crone to someone from one of the fertile farms in the river valley. But your mother cried, ‘Do you see any of our neighbors offering her assistance? If you’re too good to share a roof with her, you can sleep in the barn.’
“She shamed me into inviting the old woman into our home. And the crone stayed for a year, assisting your mother in the garden, the vineyard, and the orchard; and teaching her many things.
“At the end of the year the crone insisted, despite all our protests, on traveling on. Yet before she departed, she imparted a secret only to your mother. It was this secret that enabled us to harvest produce of such amazing size and quality that our neighbors became jealous. And your mother stopped competing at county fairs for fear of collecting all the blue ribbons. And she withdrew from our stand at the farmers’ market after all the villagers began flocking to us alone, refusing to conduct business with other vendors until our bins were as bare as old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
“Oh, how I myself wondered over the years what secret belied our ability to grow grapes that matched the size of other people’s tomatoes, or tomatoes the size of cantaloupe, or asparagus stalks that grew to the height of our neighbors’ corn. And I pestered your mother so many times, over the decades, to disclose this secret. Yet it was not until your mother was on her deathbed, as I am now on mine, that it was revealed.”
At this point, the young man can no longer desist in interrupting the elder. “You need not say any more, Father. You and Mother taught me so much. You instilled in me the habit of serving the trees, vines, and other vegetation as if they were honored guests. And many of these plants have rewarded me by producing a harvest which enables us to thrive. This alone will sustain me after your death.”
The young man, clasps one of the elder’s hands in his own, as he continues, “The gift my mother received was due to her compassion. And I can’t claim that I have her generous spirit nor that I am entitled to a secret that was bestowed on her alone.”
At these the words, the father snaps upright in his bed so swiftly that his son is truly alarmed. The old man laughs. “That is it, my good lad!” he cries. “That is the secret that you have learned just as I did when I obtained it from your mother.”
For a moment that son is fearful that in the course of his father’s infirmity, the elder has lost his wits. “But, Father, I don’t understand.”
“The secret,” the old man concludes, “is that the blessing the old woman imparted to your mother can only be received by someone who is humble enough to know he does not deserve it. That is the reason none of our neighbors or relatives have been able to coax either your mother or me to disclose this secret during all these years. By merely insisting they had a right to it, they deemed themselves unworthy of such a blessing.”
The son shakes his head in bewilderment. “So that’s the entire secret?” he inquires. “That one must be humble?”
The old man reaches over to the window and parts the curtains. “Look at the stalks of corn,” he demands. “They are very tall, yet they bow to the lightest breeze. And even the thickest trees rustle their twigs and leaves as it passes.” He lets the curtains fall back in place. “In humility, all plants and creatures must submit to the seasons. Yet more than this: our humility allows us to believe in miracles, which are events beyond our understanding.”