Before I was a newspaper boy, I sold packetts of Burpee vegetable and flower seeds. I carried a small cardboard box full of fifty-cent merchandise from door- to- door and begged old ladies to consider new brands of marigold flowers for their beds. The seeds were not hard to sell—who can resist a a boy with chestnut-hair over his eyes and pretty pink lips that ask, “Would you like to buy some seeds?”
Grace Hershey, an old lady that lived at the top of the hill in Three Springs told me that she would love to buy some seeds but she was too old to tend to a garden. Summer was her favorite time of the year, Grace explained—it was the only time when it was safe for her to walk without slipping on ice. Winters were always cold, she said, but something had changed in the air from when she was a little girl, and she could no longer tolerate those cold, dark nights. She did, however, inspect every last pack of seed and after a long explanation about how the space shuttle was causing another ice age, she settled upon several varieties of flowers that I did not know how to pronounce. I was so happy she bought them; I was afraid no one in Three Springs would be interested in simple white flowers. All of my cucumbers were gone, so were the raddishes.
Tired of always wearing my brother’s clothes that were given to him by some kids we did not even know, I decided that I needed to do more than sell seeds every spring for just a few bucks. The town paper route was still controlled by the Bennett family. I was too little to work on one of the nearby farms, and my aunt Cathy paid me just $2 a week for feeding her dog Dusty at his dog box every morning and every night.
In May, I asked Grace if she needed someone to mow her yard and do weeding for her. She took me up on the offer like I was a pack of morning glories—“Yes. I would like that very much. My son-in-law does it for me now, and I hate feeling like I owe someone something.”
I was soon promoted from mowing the yard to spading Grace’s flower bed, to planting the very seeds that I sold to her. Every week Grace called me over, in need of some help in her little yard. “Your son is such a good little gardener,” she told my mother on the phone, “Everything he plants grows so well. I wonder if Charlie would be interested in digging up the ground over my septic tank; I have to have it emptied.”
The job of unearthing that septic tank took all day, but I made $40 and it secured for me steady summer employment for the rest of my childhood, even after I started delivering newspapers every evening.
As I got older, I slowly cut back my hours working for the old woman. I still opened Grace’s door evey evening without knocking, to hand her the paper—it was on these occassions that she guilted me into doing her spring planting—
“My daughter sent me a tree that only grows in the south—Florida I think—that’s where she lives now. I was wondering if you would dig me a hole in my flower bed and plant it.
I dug the hole with a canvas bag of heavy newspapers strapped over my shoulder. I had the tree in the ground in less than five minutes, and forgot I had ever planted it until years later, while home on leave from the army, while visiting Grace, she pointed it out to me—
“Just look how big the tree you planted is. Have you ever seen anything like it? It’s not supposed to grow this far north, but somehow I knew that if you planted it, it would grow for me.
Grace is gone, planted far under the ground, but her pink trailer is still at the top of the hill in Three Springs and that odd bush from Florida is still growing there, high above the tin roof of that place, a reminder to me when I drive by, that I once sold seeds from door-to-door.