Elizabeth and the Popcorn Tree
By Chad Barger
When Elizabeth was seven, she helped her mother plant a garden in their backyard. They planted tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and squash. Elizabeth carefully dropped each seed into its proper hole and covered it with fresh brown soil. Her mother made the holes by pushing her finger into the soil. Together they planted four rows. Each row had six seeds. In total, they planted twenty-four.
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Elizabeth asked after all the seeds were planted.
“I’d say they should be just peeping up after a week, then sprouting out after two. After a month we’ll have some straggly sprawling growers. In two months, they’ll be healthy full-grown plants, and after three or four we’ll have vegetables to harvest,” her mother said as she watered the garden with the long green hose.
“Will Dad be home by then?” Elizabeth asked.
Elizabeth’s father was a soldier in the military. He stayed with other soldiers in a faraway island country called Japan. Elizabeth missed him very much and could not wait for him to come home. She thought of him every day.
“He should be home just in time to help us pick the veggies and eat ’em,” her mother said.
“I don’t know if I can wait that long,” replied Elizabeth.
“Best thing to do when you can’t wait for something is to work on other projects,” her mother said. “If you have something else to work on, then you aren’t waiting for the first thing at all. Make sense?”
“I guess, but isn’t there anything we can do to make the seeds grow faster?” Elizabeth asked.
“All we can do is water and fertilise,” her mother said. “Water, fertilise and wait.”
“Fertilise?” asked Elizabeth.
“Food for plants. Fertiliser.”
Elizabeth’s mother went into the house for a few minutes then came back with a serving tray. Elizabeth sat in the wooden green chair at the patio table. Her mother set two glasses of lemonade and a bag of freshly popped popcorn on the table. They ate the popcorn together and sipped lemonade as they watched a squirrel scurry about the old oak tree. Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to be a squirrel. She decided she would probably not make a very good squirrel because she was afraid of heights and not very good at climbing. She much preferred berries over nuts also. She could only be a berry eating ground squirrel.
The squirrel disappeared somewhere behind the oak tree. Elizabeth’s mother finished her lemonade and walked inside the house to fold laundry at the kitchen table. Elizabeth looked through the bottom of her glass as she sipped the last drop of lemonade. One lonely lemon seed stuck to the side of the glass. The popcorn bag was empty also, except for a few kernels that never popped. Elizabeth shook the popcorn bag and listened to the kernels bounce around inside.
She got an idea as she shook the popcorn bag. Instead of waiting for the vegetables to grow she would plant her own secret garden in the backyard where nobody would find it. With the tip of her finger, she fished the lemon seed from the glass and put it in her pocket. Then she picked a popcorn kernel from the bag and put it in her other pocket. She searched around the back yard for the perfect place to plant her secret garden.
‘Behind the tool shed,’ Elizabeth thought. ‘Nobody goes back there except Dad, and he won’t be back for a very long time.’
She went to the green tool shed and peeked around the corner. A rusted shovel leaned against the shed next to her father’s busted old green and yellow lawn mower. The dirt behind the shed was much more difficult to dig than the garden soil, so she picked at it with the shovel. After much scraping and digging and what seemed to be a very long time, she finally had one hole dug and ready for planting. She moved the shovel and was about to start digging the second hole when she heard her mom open the back door.
“Elizabeth, where are you?” she heard her mother call out.
She did not want her mother to find her secret garden, so she quickly dropped both seeds into the first hole, covered them with dirt, then ran to find her mother on the patio.
‘Water and fertiliser.’ She thought that evening as she was lying in bed before sleeping. ‘Food for plants.’
Elizabeth woke up extra early the next morning. Her mother was still sleeping, and the sun was barely peeking out. She looked in the refrigerator for something to fertilise her lemon and popcorn seeds. She poured a glass of lemonade.
“Lemon fertiliser,” she said.
Then she scooped a dollop of butter into the glass of lemonade.
“Popcorn fertiliser,” she giggled as she watched the mound of butter floating like a creamy yellow island. ‘Japan,’ she thought.
Elizabeth opened the back door as quietly as she could. Once outside she covered the top of the lemon butter glass with her hand and sprinted to the tool shed. She peeked around the corner to the spot where her seeds were planted. Nothing. No sprouts. She dumped the glass of lemonade and butter over the spot. The clump of butter fell with a ‘splat’. She ran back to the house, opened the door quietly, washed the glass, went to her room, and pretended to sleep just as her mom was getting up and making morning noises in the bathroom.
That afternoon Elizabeth helped her mother sprinkle water on their garden by turning on the faucet for her. She turned the faucet off once the garden was soaked through. She watched closely but didn’t see her mother put any fertiliser on the soil.
“When do we put on fertiliser?” she asked.
“We won’t put any fertiliser until the plants start to sprout,” her mother said.
Elizabeth decided to fertilise her secret garden every day even if her mother didn’t fertilise hers, mostly because she liked the adventure of sneaking out in the morning. She also remembered what her mother had said about working on projects to help the time go by faster. She decided to draw a picture for her father every time she thought of him and wanted him to hurry home. The first picture she drew was of her with her father climbing a lemon tree together. On the back of the picture, she wrote a short poem:
My dad is away
I wish he could stay
Together we could play
Maybe another day
She tried to think of a place to keep her pictures until her dad came home. She searched all through her room but couldn’t decide. She looked in her closet and found the perfect box. The last time her dad came home to visit he brought her a pair of ballerina slippers as a gift. The slippers came in a hand-made wooden shoe box. She kept the pretty green wooden box in her closet even though she had outgrown the slippers.
‘Perfect,’ she thought as she opened the box. ‘I’ll keep it in the tool shed.’ She put her picture in the shoe box and took it to the tool shed. She put the box in a corner as far back into the shed as she could reach.
A couple of days passed, and each morning Elizabeth woke up extra early to water and fertilise her secret garden and put her new pictures in the secret box. On the fourth day, she noticed something new. A sprout. A tiny green plant had poked its way through the soil and two petal-like leaves had popped open from it. That afternoon she looked closely at her mother’s garden. There were no tiny plants yet. Elizabeth decided that her lemon butter was working miracles for her garden. She thought of her dad and drew a picture of him and her mom holding hands. She wrote a letter to her dad on the back of the picture this time. She showed it to her mom who wanted to stick it to the refrigerator with a magnet.
“I’ll just keep it somewhere ‘til dad comes home and give it to him,” Elizabeth said.
Early the next morning when she went to the green tool shed to water her secret garden Elizabeth remembered to take her new picture. She dumped the lemon and butter on the seedling ‘splat’ then quietly opened the tool shed door and made her way to the wooden shoe box. This time when she opened the box to put her new picture in the other pictures were gone.
‘Where could it have gone to?’ she wondered. Nobody beside her Dad ever went into the tool shed, and he wouldn’t be back for a long time.
Her mother’s garden soon began to sprout petal-like leaves. It had been eight days and just as her mother’s garden was barely sprouting, Elizabeth’s plant was already as high as her waist and sprouting branches in every direction. There was only one plant in her secret garden, although she had planted two seeds. She decided that the popcorn seed probably didn’t grow because it had been microwaved, so she must have a lemon tree.
In Sunday School that weekend Mrs. Sutherland took the class outside and read a story. In the story, a man planted seeds just like Elizabeth and her mother. He planted seeds on a walking path, but they didn’t grow because birds ate them. He planted seeds on a pile of rocks. Those seeds sprouted but didn’t grow because they didn’t have soil. He also planted seeds in a thorn bush, for some reason, which also sprouted, but didn’t grow. They were gobbled up and taken over by the greedy thorn bushes. Finally, he planted seeds in good soil with plenty of fertiliser, like Elizabeth and her mother, and those seeds not only sprouted, but they grew a hundred times better than any others. She liked those the best. Elizabeth decided that her secret garden must have the best soil because she fertilised it every morning.
As the summer went on and the days passed by Elizabeth continued to water and fertilise her secret garden every morning with lemonade and butter. She also continued to draw pictures and write letters and poems to her father whenever she missed him, even though the pictures continued to disappear from her secret box every few days. More than once she giggled when she heard her mother say from the kitchen: “Oh my, we’re out of butter again! How does it keep going so fast?”
‘Maybe the butter is going the same place as my pictures,’ Elizabeth thought.
Elizabeth’s garden grew much more quickly than her mother’s. Her lemon plant had already become a tree with several branches and leaves by the time her mother’s corn stalks were barely as high as her waist. When her mother’s tomato plants had finally popped out two green baby tomatoes, Elizabeth’s tree had already grown as high as the tool shed and produced bunches of lemons that hanged from its drooping limbs. The lemons that grew in her secret garden were unusual. Most of them were normal sized, but three of them had ripened to the size of balloons overnight. Still, she continued to water and fertilise every day.
The days and weeks went by quickly as Elizabeth stayed busy helping her mother with their garden and drawing pictures and writing stories, letters, and poems for her dad. The vegetable garden was just about ready to harvest. They had juicy tomatoes, fresh ears of corn, yellow squash, and bright green cucumbers all ready to be picked. That afternoon as Elizabeth and her mother were watering the garden someone in a military uniform opened the back door and yelled “Surprise!”
It was her dad. He had finally come home. Elizabeth dropped the water hose, ran to him, and jumped up to give him a hug. Her mother hugged him also and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I got you a new set of ballerina shoes,” her dad said with excited eyes. “They came in a hand-made wooden box just like the last ones.”
He dropped his travel bag to the patio floor and knelt down to open it.
“I took the shoes out so I could keep all of the pictures you sent me in the box though. They’re here somewhere,” he said.
“I.. I… sent you?” Elizabeth stammered.
“Yeah sure, you sent so many. I love them all so much, so I kept them in the shoe box your new slippers came in.” He said as he pulled the new yellow wooden shoe box from the bag.
Elizabeth opened the lid. Inside was a stack of her pictures. The picture on top was the one she drew of them climbing the lemon tree together. She picked it up, turned it over, and in disbelief she read:
My dad is away
I wish he could stay
Together we could play
Maybe another day
‘Pop, Pop!’ Two loud blasts came from the far end of the back yard behind the green tool shed.
“What was that?” Elizabeth’s mother asked.
“I don’t know. Firecrackers?” her dad said.
Together they went to the tool shed and Elizabeth’s father peeked around the corner.
“When did we plant a lemon tree?” he asked.
“We don’t have a lemon tree,” her mother said.
Lemon flavoured popcorn was scattered all about the ground around the tree. Her father tossed a piece into his mouth and said “It’s fresh. Good too. Lemon flavoured popcorn. But where did it come from?”
‘POP!’ Another giant popcorn-lemon burst just above Elizabeth and lemon flavoured popcorn rained down on them all.
“Have I got a story to tell you guys!” Elizabeth said with a grin.