When I was a little girl, raiding gardens was simply part of growing up. Although we never took more than a stalk of rhubarb or a carrot, and were always careful not to cause damage, the risk of capture made our young hearts pound.
That’s why, as an adult, I’ve never been worried about kids sneaking into my garden now and then. For heaven’s sake, if that’s the worst mischief they get into, we should count ourselves lucky. And if nothing else, it’s one way to get them to eat their vegetables!
A lot of people aren’t as easy-going, unfortunately. One day back in the 1970s, when we were selling u-pick vegetables, a woman came huffing and puffing down to the house. She had spotted a group of little boys raiding the pea patch and had run all the way from the field to report them. She wanted to see these “hooligans” punished.
Now, normally, I would have shrugged it off. But because this customer was so upset by the incident, I felt compelled at least to investigate the situation. I asked my son Bill to drive the truck up to the pea patch and sort things out.
As the truck approached, four little faces dropped suddenly out of sight between the rows. Bill just sat and waited. When the kids finally poked their heads up for a peek, they discovered all six-plus feet of Bill motioning them to come over to the truck. “Get in,” he told them ominously. “My MOTHER wants to talk to you.”
The boys climbed reluctantly into the back of the truck, hanging their heads. I’m sure they thought they were in real trouble. I was waiting for them in the yard.
“So, you boys like to pick peas, do you?” I asked them. They nodded their heads sheepishly.
“Well,” I said, “it just so happens that we need some help picking peas. Give me your names and addresses, and come back tomorrow at 7:00am.”
For the rest of the week, the obediently showed up to pick peas, a couple of hours before lunch and a couple hours after. On Friday afternoon, Bill brought the boys down to the house, along with all our other farm workers. I started passing out cheques, including one for each of the four boys.
For a moment they just stood there, dumbfounded. They looked down at the cheques and then up at each other, down at the cheques, then up at each other. One of them asked timidly, “You mean, you’re actually paying us?”
“Of course I am,” I replied. “You’ve worked hard!”
He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Hole,” he said fervently, “you are the nicest person in the world.” I had to fight to keep from laughing. It finally dawned on me that those boys had thought they were being punished, and that if they didn’t come out to work, I would phone their parents. Instead, they were all going home with money in their pockets, to tell their folks about the job they found.
I’ve always felt that, in the long run, punishment often does more harm than good. If kids behave in a certain way simply to avoid being punished, they’re not learning a darned thing. Kids need to be taught the value of behaving responsibly.
Instead of coming down hard on those boys, and getting them into trouble at home, I gave them a job to do and paid them for it. As a result, they ended up learning a much more valuable lesson.
And I ended up with a pretty good story to tell.
-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer