By David Armstrong
Two farms nestle together in a beautiful valley. Both receive the same amount of sun and rain. One farm produces tall, green corn, with fat milk cows in the pasture and corpulent chickens in the yard surrounding a lovely home. The neighboring farm, however, stands in stark contrast, with withered cornstalks, emaciated cows, scrawny chickens, and a rundown, ramshackle house that loses more shingles with every passing storm.
The neighbor who owns the prospering farm shakes his head every day as he watches the old farmer hand-water the withered crop from a well. He sees the puny livestock stagger about. The poor condition of the weathered house with its tattered roof is obvious.
The neighbor walks down the lane that connects the two farms and waves to the old farmer, who stands on his front porch throwing out scratch for the chickens. The old farmer tips his head and pays no attention to the neighbor.
“Good morning, friend,” the neighbor calls out as he walks up the path to the porch.
“Good for you, maybe. Don’t make no never-mind to me,” the farmer replies.
The neighbor smiles. “I don’t mean to be intrusive, but I can’t help but notice that you seem to be struggling. Your cornfield looks none too good, your cattle are half-starved, your chickens are hardly bigger than pigeons, and I suspect that that roof of yours lets in more rain than it keeps out.”
The farmer squints steely eyed at the neighbor. “Maybe so, but this here’s my farm. I’ve been running it my whole life, and it suits me just fine. I get by.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to imply you are not a good farmer. But I see you water your field by hand from your well. That’s a lot of work. I irrigate my fields with trenches from the stream. I add nutritious grain to my cows’ regular feed. When I reroofed my house last year, I used composite shingles—much more weather resistant than cedar shingles.”
The old farmer spit into the dirt. “Well, there’s the difference ‘tween you and me.”
“Yes, we have many differences. I came by to offer some help. I can show you how to dig irrigation ditches to put water from the stream on your field. I can show you the grain I used to feed my cows. The chickens seem to like it, too. And I have some spare shingles you’re welcome to.”
Shaking his head, the old farmer wipes his brow. “That’s right kindly of you. But I do things my way, and that’s how I like ‘em. Good day to you, neighbor.” And with that, the farmer walks into his house.
The neighbor begins making a daily pilgrimage to the old farmer’s front porch to offer encouragement and suggestions. The farmer’s answer is always the same—”I like my ways best.”
A couple weeks go by, and the farmer grows tired of his neighbor’s meddling, so he puts up a fence across the front of his yard. The neighbor stands at the gate and calls to the farmer, but the farmer ignores him. After a while, the farmer starts throwing rocks at the neighbor when he sees him approaching.
So, one night, the determined neighbor sneaks onto the farmer’s property, digs a narrow trench from the stream that runs along the border of the field, and turns some water onto one corner of the dying corn. The next day, the confused farmer dams up the trench. The neighbor opens it again the next night. The farmer eventually leaves the trench alone. He is amazed at how much bigger and healthier the crop is in that corner of the field.
Another night, the neighbor sneaks into the farmer’s barn and pumps a bag of healthy grain into one of the feeding troughs for the cows. The farmer finds remnants of the grain the next morning and scoops it out onto the ground. The mysterious grain appears day after day in the feed trough until the farmer finally gives up and stops throwing out the grain. He is surprised by how much fatter the cows are that eat the grain and how much more milk they give. Even the chickens who peck at the grain that spills on the ground grow bigger than the rest.
One day, when the farmer goes to town for supplies, the neighbor brings a ladder and climbs onto the roof of the farmer’s house. With tar and composite shingles, the neighbor patches a few obvious holes. He cleans out the rain gutters while he’s at it. He also oils a squeaky hinge on the front door.
When the farmer returns home that night, he is surprised by the noiseless door as he enters. Clouds blow in, and rain comes down. He sets out buckets on the floor in the usual spots to catch the water leaking through the roof, but he is surprised that the buckets stay empty. In the morning, after the storm passes, he goes out to the corner of his house and finds the rain barrel almost full of water from the cleared gutters. It is a miracle!
But the old farmer figures out pretty quickly it’s no miracle. He pushes his weathered hat down low over his brow and stomps down the lane to the neighbor’s house.
The neighbor meets the old farmer on the front porch with a smile. “Howdy, friend!”
The farmer squints beneath the tattered brim of his straw hat. “I ain’t no friend of yours. You’ve been trespassing.”
“Why, what do you mean?”
The farmer jabs a knotted finger at the neighbor. “I knowed it was you. It was you that dug that trench into my corn field. And I knowed it was you that put the grain in my Bessie’s feed trough. And you patched my roof and cleared my gutters and oiled my door. Go on! Admit it! You’ve been meddling with my place!”
The neighbor smiles and nods his head. “You got me.”
The farmer stomps his foot. “It’s agin’ the law to trespass on a feller’s property. I’ve a mind to call the sheriff.”
“I suppose that’s your right, but I doubt the sheriff will take your complaint seriously. You have to admit, everything I have done has improved your farm. Isn’t that true?”
The farmer let out a long sigh. “I suppose so. But answer me one thing. Why did you do those things when I was plumb adamant in telling you I wanted to do things my own way?”
“Because I knew my ways were better and you would be more prosperous if you changed your ways.”
“But I built my fence and threw rocks at you to keep you away. Why’d you keep at it?”
The neighbor steps from the porch to the pavement and looks the farmer in the eye. “Because I want to help you. You are my neighbor, and I want to see you improve your farm.”
The farmer ponders for a moment. “All right, you’re a meddlesome type, that’s for dang sure. I can see that your ways are better than my ways. But I’m getting old. I ain’t got the energy to dig more irrigation ditches. I can’t afford to buy better grain. And I don’t have the materials to replace my leaky roof.”
“That’s okay. I’ll send one of my boys over to dig the trenches if I can have a little of your corn. I’ll give you the grain in exchange for some of the extra milk from your cows and maybe a chicken. And I’ll put a crew to work on your roof if you will let me come into your house and visit with you from time to time.”
The old farmer shakes his head slowly. “I don’t understand you, neighbor, but it’s a deal. You want to shake on it?”
“I’d love to.” The neighbor extends his hand, and the farmer takes it in his callused grasp.
“You know, for a smart feller, you ain’t much of a businessman. What you ask of me is not worth nearly what you’re giving me.”
The neighbor’s smile broadens. “The truth is, I actually have more to give you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Now that you are willing to take care of your own farm better, I intend to give you my farm when I retire next year. You can have it all. You simply have to promise that you will take as good a care of it as I have.”
The steely glint returns to the farmer’s eye. “That’s mighty generous of you. But why?”
The neighbor puts his arm around the farmer’s bony shoulders. “Don’t you know why? Because I love you.”
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com
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I’d rather have a good life than a good business. Too often people excuse horrible behavior because it’s “good business.” Mankind is my business! The good neighbor understands that.