Carrot Sticks for Two


Ryan liked to sprinkle his garden and watch the water spray from the hose onto the thirsty plants below. He enjoyed seeing the big squash leaves covered with the tiny droplets and the feathery carrot leaves bend under the gentle spray of water. He especially liked the pleasant yet pungent smell of wet tomato plants and damp earth.

Ryan was proud of his garden. He had done all the work himself. He had put the seeds in the warm earth, watered and thinned the plants, and pulled every tiny weed that poked its head up through the ground. Feeling that the garden was his very own was one of the best things that had ever happened to Ryan. He could hardly wait to share his carrots, tomatoes, and squash with the family.

One afternoon as he was watering, Ryan noticed his younger sister, Kris, watching him from the sidewalk. She looked rather wistful and lonesome, and Ryan felt a little sorry for her. Breaking an arm is no fun, he thought, especially in the middle of the summer, when all her friends are taking swimming lessons and having lots of fun.

“Hi, Kris,” he called.

“Hi. Is it okay if I watch?”

Ryan knew what the next question would be. He had heard it at least a hundred times already this summer.

“Do you need any help?” she asked hopefully.

“No, not right n—” Ryan stopped himself in the middle of his usual answer. Something in the way she was standing, her eyes wide and hopeful, her arm so uncomfortable looking, made him think again. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to let her hold the hose a minute, he decided.

“Do you think you could hold the hose with one hand?” he asked.

“Sure I can!” she declared.

Ryan handed her the hose and showed her how to hold it so the water would spray just above the plants instead of directly on them. Kris carefully watered the tomato plants while Ryan pulled some weeds that had sprung up among the carrots.

“I’m done!” Kris announced proudly in a few minutes. Then without thinking she stepped between two tomato plants and landed right on the carrot row, completely flattening one feathery plant with her foot.

Oh no! Ryan thought disgustedly. But he said, “I guess the rows are pretty close together. It’s hard to find a safe place to stand, isn’t it?”

Kris nodded solemnly and added, “I’m sorry, Ryan. I’ll try to be more careful.”

She looked so sad that Ryan found himself saying, “Don’t worry about it, Kris, you’ll do better next time!”

Instantly her face lighted up. “Will you let me help you again?” she asked eagerly.

Ryan was silent for a moment. Until today, this garden has been mine, he thought, even all the hard work. It had given him a good feeling to know that he had done everything by himself. He wasn’t sure he wanted to have a partner now.

“We’ll see,” he said finally. “I’m not sure there’s enough work to keep us both busy.”

The next day after breakfast, Ryan announced, “Today is weeding day, Mom. I hope you fix lots of lunch!”

Weeding the garden was a big job. Ryan wanted to start early while the soil was still damp from yesterday’s watering. He was in the garage looking for a small hand spade when he looked up and saw Kris. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to—her questioning eyes spoke for her. Ryan fumbled around looking for the spade. As he picked up the small tool, he thought, It’s my garden and it’s not my fault she broke her arm and can’t play with her friends.

Then he turned to face her.

“Hi,” Kris said, looking excited and hopeful.

Ryan couldn’t resist that look. “Come on, partner,” he said. “Let’s weed the garden.”

When they reached the garden, Ryan dropped to his knees beside the tomato plants. Kris stood a moment, then knelt beside him and timidly asked, “Which ones are the weeds?”

I thought everyone could tell a tomato plant from a weed, Ryan thought. He had to smile, though, when he saw how eager Kris was to learn. Patiently he explained which ones were the weeds and told her to be careful to pull them up by the roots so they wouldn’t come up again. Then he showed her how to use the hand spade to dig out the tougher roots. The two worked silently side by side and Ryan was surprised to see how fast the work went. Within an hour they had finished weeding the whole garden.

“After a while I didn’t even have to ask you which ones were the weeds!” Kris said excitedly when they were through. She looked tired and her forehead was smudged with dirt, but she was smiling and seemed happier than she had been since she broke her arm.

The next morning Ryan checked the soil in his garden. As he had expected, the hot sun had baked it dry again.

“Want to help water our garden?” he asked Kris. As usual, she was eager. As they set the hose and sprinkler in between the tomato row and the squash row, Ryan thought to himself, Sharing my garden with Kris isn’t so bad after all.

“When will the tomatoes be red?” Kris asked. “Will they always be that small?”

“No,” he explained. “They will get much bigger and turn red next month, I hope.”

“When will the carrots start to grow and get ripe?” Kris asked. “I can’t even see them.”

“The packet said the carrots would ripen by mid-July and that’s about right now,” Ryan answered. “Maybe some of them are already ripe. They grow underground so we’ll have to pull one up to see.”

Ryan knelt and gently pulled the leaves of one of the carrot plants. They both watched as a carrot slowly emerged from under the ground.

“Oh, boy!” Kris exclaimed. “A real carrot! May I show Mom?”

Ryan had wanted to take the first carrot to show Mother, but Kris was already halfway to the house. She was so excited that Ryan didn’t have the heart to stop her.

Kris didn’t come out to the garden again so Ryan finished the watering by himself.

“It’s lunchtime,” Mother called from the back porch a few minutes later.

“Hurry up, Ryan,” Kris urged, smiling mysteriously when he went into the kitchen. “Wash your hands and then come and eat lunch.”

He sat down at his usual place. It looked like an ordinary lunch to him—tuna sandwiches, potato chips, milk, a plate with four carrot sticks. …

“Carrot sticks!” Ryan cried. “Is that our carrot, Kris?”

Kris laughed and nodded. She looked down shyly and added, “Look under your plate, Ryan. I made a surprise for you.”

Ryan lifted the plate and saw a card with a large orange-colored carrot on it. Inside the card Kris had printed, “Thank you for sharing your garden with me.”

Ryan looked up at his sister and smiled. Then after taking a bite of a carrot stick, he said with a grin, “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such a delicious carrot. But then I had a pretty good partner to help me take care of it!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch