“Garden Sitters,” Friend, July 1996, 40
Jeremy rocked the porch swing while his sister, Meg, fanned herself with one hand. “It’s hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk,” she said.
Jeremy shrugged. “Mom and Dad still want us to find a summer job. If we don’t, they’ll find one for us.”
Both children looked glum. Their parents’ job ideas tended to be long on service, short on cash.
“Baby-sitting?” Meg suggested.
“And be stuck all summer with someone’s kids? I don’t think so. How about yard work?”
“And be stuck all summer with someone’s yard? I don’t think so,” Meg mimicked. She paused, her eyes growing large. “That’s it! We’ll combine the two ideas!”
“Too much sun, Sis?”
She ignored him. “Remember last year when we got back from vacation? The tomatoes were dead, and the grass was knee-high.”
“So let’s start a yard-sitting business for people on vacation! We’d only have to spend a couple of weeks on any one yard, and we’d probably only have one or two yards at a time. We could work in the early morning, when it’s cooler, and spend the afternoons at the movies. Mom and Dad will go for it. You know how they like ‘initiative.’ Besides, this will keep us too busy for those service projects they always plan.”
“Like working in the soup kitchen,” Jeremy said.
“Or cleaning litter out of the park.”
“Or delivering meals to the elderly.”
Finally! An excuse to get out of being nice. They hurried inside.
“What a wonderful idea,” their mother said.
“Shows a lot of initiative,” their father agreed, “but. …”
Meg looked at Jeremy. “But what?”
Their parents consulted in whispers for a few moments.
“You can set up your yard-sitting business,” their father finally said. “But we hope you’ll also help someone, unpaid. We’ve always planned service projects for you, but we think that at eleven and twelve years of age, you’re ready to come up with one on your own.”
“I hate helping other people,” Meg said. “It’s just a lot of hard work for nothing.”
“Not if you do it right,” Mother insisted.
“They’re always trying to teach us great moral lessons,” Meg said later. “Still, I suppose we could find some really quick thing we could do to satisfy them.”
The next day they made posters advertising their yard-sitting service.
To their amazement, the phone was soon ringing. It seemed everyone had vacations planned and wanted someone to take in the mail, mow the lawn, and keep the garden watered.
“This is a gold mine!” Jeremy said.
Meg looked at their schedule. “We can still get everything done in the morning, if we push it. We’ll make a fortune!”
Their parents’ request that they come up with a service project completely slipped their minds.
It was hard work, but profitable. Sitting on the porch, Meg and Jeremy rattled the change in their pockets and smiled.
“Maybe we could expand,” Jeremy suggested.
“I thought you didn’t like work.”
Jeremy grinned. “Nope, but I like money. Besides, lots of yards around here could use a little extra work. Look at Mrs. Mahoney’s for example.”
Mrs. Mahoney lived only a few doors away.
“Yeah,” Meg agreed. “The grass is high, and the hedge is overgrown. She has planted a garden, but it hasn’t been weeded, and I think she’s expecting dandelions to inherit the earth!”
“It’s an eyesore,” Jeremy agreed, “but that’s life, I guess. She may be getting too old to take good care of her yard. She can’t afford to pay us, though, so it’s not our problem.”
“Maybe the neighborhood could help,” Meg offered.
Jeremy laughed. “She’d never accept charity. Last Thanksgiving we practically had to force that pie on her. There’s no way she’d ever let someone else clean up her yard.”
They dropped the subject, but Meg couldn’t get Mrs. Mahoney’s yard out of her mind.
The next morning Jeremy was surprised to see Meg up already, when he went down to breakfast. Her shoes were damp, and the knees of her jeans were dirty.
“What’ve you been doing?” he asked.
“Nothing much,” she replied. But as they passed Mrs. Mahoney’s yard, Jeremy noticed the garden had recently been weeded.
During the next week the dandelions began to disappear from Mrs. Mahoney’s lawn. Jeremy didn’t say anything. At first he was afraid Meg would rope him into it. Then he got a little peeved when she didn’t even try.
Finally, one morning, he got up earlier than usual. When Meg headed out the door, gardening tools in hand, he was waiting.
“So, what are you doing today?” he asked, falling into step beside her.
Meg hesitated. “I’m weeding the garden again, and starting to trim the hedge.”
“Mrs. Mahoney must have noticed what you’re doing,” Jeremy said. “What about when she catches you?”
“She doesn’t get up until ten o’clock. I’m long gone by then.”
“Give me the hedge clippers,” Jeremy said gruffly. “I don’t want us to be late to our first job this morning.”
Over the next few weeks, Mrs. Mahoney’s yard bloomed. She woke up earlier and earlier, hoping to catch sight of the mysterious gardeners. Finally one morning she heard low voices outside her window and quickly flung it open. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
Two open-mouthed faces stared at her.
“This is trespassing,” Mrs. Mahoney said firmly. “Besides, you know how I feel about charity. I appreciate what you’ve done, and I’ll find a way to pay you, but I wish you’d stop. I’ve never owed anyone in my life, and I don’t intend to start now.”
Meg tried to speak, but Jeremy beat her to the punch.
“Charity?” he said. “Charity? I don’t like charity, either. That’s why we’re sneaking around like this. We didn’t want to admit that we owed you something.”
“You owe me?”
“Sure,” Jeremy said. “You know about our yard-sitting business?”
Mrs. Mahoney nodded. “I’ve seen the posters.”
“Well, our parents told us we had to do one yard free, or we couldn’t open the business. Your yard is perfect. It’s close, and it’s small. But we were afraid you wouldn’t understand.”
Mrs. Mahoney looked doubtful, but finally smiled. “Well, if you need my yard, it’s yours for the summer,” she finally said, “but only if you’re sure it’s not a bother.”
“It isn’t,” Jeremy said, surprised to find that it was true. “We really like doing it. Besides, it’s good for business.”
Meg grinned. “Thank heavens we got that settled. Now we can mow the lawn without worrying about waking you up!”
They all laughed.
September came, and school began again. The yard-sitting business closed. Still, Meg and Jeremy found time to rake Mrs. Mahoney’s leaves. In the winter they shoveled her walks.
Their parents watched and smiled.
“See?” their father said. “Helping others is great, if you do it the right way.”
“We’re not ‘helping others,’” Jeremy and Meg insisted. “We’re doing a favor for a friend.”
“Exactly!” their parents said together.