In the seven years that Twin Brother Mark and I had been alive, our dad had never made an offer like it before. There had to be a mistake; the deal was just too good to be true.
“There’s no mistake. You and Mark can earn as much money as you want over this entire weekend.” It was early Saturday morning, just after breakfast when Big Brother James, Older Brother Richard, and The Sister found us jumping up and down and screaming out on the back deck. Quickly they joined us to ask what was going on.
Dad repeated his offer, “I tell you what. All you kids can earn as much money as you want today and tomorrow.” Now all of us were jumping up and down on the back deck and screaming for joy. Dad’s offer was real! We all were gonna be rich!
What exactly did we have to do for all that money? Now that’s the rest of this story, but fair warning, Dear Reader, sometimes a good deal is anything but.
It was a little after 8 a.m. when Dad instructed us about what we would be doing, “For each pine tree you plant in the front yard, I’ll give you ten cents.” When we moved into our new house at 110 Flamingo Street the previous year, there were only two huge pine trees in the front. Dad wanted a forest so you couldn’t see the house from the street.
When we asked him where to get the trees, rather than answer that he’d buy them from a nursery, he pointed across the street and said, “See that vacant lot over there covered in pine trees? Under those huge trees are all the baby trees you need. Dig them up and plant them over here. Remember to keep count — ten cents for every tree.”
With that, Dad handed each of us a shovel, warned us to “Just be careful crossing the street,” and went back inside the house. The door closed, and we started running for the trees.
Unlike the back that sloped down and disappeared into the leading edge of a swamp, our front yard was relatively flat and stretched from our house to the street. Running across Flamingo, digging up baby pine trees, running back across, digging small holes, and planting the trees seemed like easy money.
In the first hour, each of us had already made an entire dollar! But that was before the heat and humidity of late August baked down on us and turned the air into a thick, moist nightmare. The dog days of summer made any physical activity outside almost impossible — even the simple task of planting baby pine trees.
After lunch we kept planting, but our pace had slowed considerably, and by dinner time we had all decided to follow The Sister’s advice when she left two hours earlier, “It’s too hot to plant trees, I’m going in.”
Sunday morning, we all went to church then ate lunch at The Johnny Reb. By the time we got back home and changed, it was already about 1,000 degrees outside. Not exactly ideal hole-digging weather. By the time my three brothers, The Sister and I collected our shovels and walked across the street to the pine forest, sweat was pouring down our faces. They all started digging, and I started thinking.
“I got it!” I said, “I know how to make this go faster.” The digging immediately stopped. “Dad said he’d pay us ten cents for every tree we plant. Right?” There was no argument. That’s what he had said.
I continued, “Instead of digging the trees, pull them up. That way we can carry five or six at a time. When we get back to our yard, we’ll jump on the shovel once, pull the dirt back, shove the baby tree in the crack, then stomp the dirt around it. Dad said we had to plant trees, but he never said they had to live.”
My brothers and The Sister didn’t move. No one said a word about my idea, and for a moment I thought they would either start laughing or start throwing pinecones at me. But then, all at once, shovels were thrown to the ground as they started pulling up tiny pine trees. By the end of Sunday, each of us had pulled up and planted fifty trees each!
When I told this story to our granddaughters and The Wife, they all wanted to know if our dad had gotten mad when all the trees started to die.
“No, but during the next five years, he never asked us to plant trees again. There was no need to. When we moved from Flamingo and turned out of the driveway for the last time, I tried looking back at our house, but didn’t see it. Dad had gotten what he’d paid for after all. Every one of those baby pine trees we had pulled up and stomped into the ground had lived. We actually planted an entire forest in our front yard.”
Thinking back to those two days and the memory of how all of us kids had gotten the best of our dad, I smiled. That smile quickly faded as another get rich quick deal with our dad came to mind. An extremely painful deal which ended with one of us going to the hospital. But “Twenty-five cents a Bundle” is a story for next week.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]