The JJ Willow-Tree Store


He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack (Prov. 28:27).

“We just have to get that colt,” I whispered to Jared as I thought of Woody Peterson’s new colt wobbling around on his long, skinny legs. Since we had seen him that morning, I hadn’t thought of anything else.

Jared scrunched up his nose and closed one eye as we sat in the front yard under our willow tree. Finally he asked, “Jarom, do you think that Dad would buy us Woody’s colt?”

I shook my head sadly. “If we’re going to get a colt, we’ll have to buy it ourselves.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

I sighed and nodded my head. For a long time we lay on our bellies under the willow tree, trying to think of some way to buy Woody’s new colt.

Suddenly I yelled, “I know! Let’s start a store.”

“A store?” Jared asked. “What would we sell?”

I pressed my lips together really hard and squinted so that I could think better. “First we have to save up our candy and treats. And we can make lemonade. … We can sell anything we want to!”

That night when Mom served us chocolate cake, Jared poked me and whispered, “Jarom, remember—we have to save this for the store.”

I froze. I stared down at Mom’s chocolate cake, then thought of Woody’s wobbly colt. I wanted that cake badly, but I wanted Woody’s colt more. So we wrapped our cake in plastic and stuck it in the freezer. And later, when our home teachers brought a plate of cookies, Jared and I put ours in a plastic bag and stored them in the freezer too.

Before we went to bed that night, we checked our drawers. Jared found three sticks of gum, and I found two candy canes that I’d saved from Christmas. From then on, every time we got ready to eat something, we’d stop and ask ourselves if we could sell it in our store.

The next morning Mom gave us oatmeal mush for breakfast. Jared made a face at his. Suddenly he jumped out of his chair, ran over to the kitchen cabinet, and jerked out a plastic bag. Before Mom knew what was happening, Jared had dumped his mush into the bag.

“Jared!” Mom scolded. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m saving my mush for the store.”

“Nobody’s going to buy mush in a bag,” I growled at Jared.

“Maybe there’s somebody who just loves mush,” Jared argued.

“I don’t care who loves mush,” Mom said to Jared. “You’re going to eat yours—right now!”

Two weeks later, after Jared and I had saved everything that we could, we dragged the family picnic table around to the front of the house and set it under our willow tree. Then we spread out our treats on it: four pieces of pie—two cherry and two apple—cake, candy bars, gum, cookies, candy canes, licorice ropes, fudge, brownies, and other stuff. Mom made the lemonade for us, then printed a huge sign—THE JJ WILLOW-TREE STORE.

I grinned at Jared. “With all this stuff, the whole town will come to our store. We’ll be able to buy Woody’s colt today!”

Jared looked at a piece of cake. “Do you think that this stuff is still good?”

“We kept it in the freezer, didn’t we?”

“Don’t you think that we ought to make sure? We don’t want anybody buying bad stuff.”

I grinned. “Well, maybe you’re right.” Without another word, we each gobbled down a piece of cake.

Besides Mom and Dad, who each bought a cup of lemonade, Sister McCauley, from across the street, was our first customer. “Well, my, my,” she twittered, looking down at all the good things that we had there on the table. “I’m just dying for something good to eat. How much is that piece of chocolate cake?”

Well, I knew that Sister McCauley had plenty of money, and we were going to need lots of money to buy Woody’s colt, so I told her, “One dollar.”

She gulped. “It must really be good cake,” she said, looking down the table at the cookies. “How much is one of those cookies?”

“Only a dollar,” I answered. “They’re good too. Most of this stuff’s a dollar,” I explained. “Everything except the pie.”

“How much is the pie?” Sister McCauley asked, her face brightening up.

“Just two dollars. You see, the pie’s the best thing we have.”

She coughed. “I only have a quarter with me.”

“We sold Mom and Dad some lemonade this morning for a quarter,” Jared blurted out.

“I’ll take it.” Sister McCauley slapped her quarter onto the table.

“Don’t you think you’re charging too much?” Jared asked after she left.

“The more we charge,” I explained, “the more money we’ll make. Shoot, by the time we sell all this, we’ll have about a hundred dollars. We’ll be able to buy Woody’s colt for sure.”

“What are you two doing?” our friend Robert asked. He stood with his hands in his pockets, looking up and down our table.

“We started a store,” Jared announced. “Do you want to buy something?”

“How much are those brownies?”

“A dollar apiece.”

He frowned, dug his money out of his pocket, and counted it. “I only have seventeen cents,” he finally announced.

“Oh, come on, Jarom,” Jared protested. “Let him buy something for seventeen cents. After all, he’s our friend, and how are we going to keep any friends if we sell things for a dollar?”

“We’re trying to buy a colt, remember?”

“There are things more important than colts,” Jared came back. “I’ll give him something of mine for seventeen cents.”

“Oh, all right,” I gave in. “What do you want, Robert?”

“I’ll take a brownie,” he said. He stuffed the whole thing into his mouth and swallowed it in about three chews. Then he hurried off.

As soon as we lowered our prices, business picked up. Mr. Gibson bought two cups of lemonade when he came home for lunch. James, Randy, and Russell, who live down the street, finished off our cake. Aunt Salina bought our fudge and a cup of lemonade.

A little before noon two boys who had moved in down the street the week before came tromping down the sidewalk with their little sister. They were all sweaty and tired, and they stopped in the shade of our willow tree to rest. They stared wistfully at our goodies. After they’d been there a while, I asked, “What do you want to buy?”

The older boy shook his head and mumbled, “We’re just looking.”

“Well, if you’re not going to buy anything, you’d better not be using our shade,” I grumbled. “The shade’s just for customers.” I looked away so that I wouldn’t see the little girl, who was staring longingly at the pitcher of lemonade. Jared saw her staring, too, and he grabbed a cup, poured it full of lemonade, and pushed it across the table to her.

“But she doesn’t have any money,” I protested.

“I know, but she looks awfully thirsty.”

“How are we going to make money if we give our stuff away?”

Jared shrugged. “What’s wrong with making people happy instead?”

“Well, her brothers look thirsty, too,” I grumbled, grabbing the pitcher and pouring two more cups of lemonade.

By a little after lunch we had sold everything except one squashed brownie, but we had made only four dollars and seven cents. I glared at our empty table and the little pile of money.

“It’s all right, Jarom,” Jared said. “We can have a store another time.”

“I wanted to buy Woody’s colt today,” I muttered.

“But we had fun running the store.”

“I didn’t want to just have fun. I wanted Woody’s colt.”

“A lot of other people had fun because of our store too. That’s as good as a colt any day, isn’t it?”

Just then we heard Trina Wheeler coming down the street; she was rubbing her eyes and sobbing. “What’s the matter, Trina?” Jared asked.

“I was going to Becky’s birthday party,” she sobbed. “I didn’t have a present to give her, so I was taking her two dollar bills that I’d saved. But I lost them. Now I don’t have anything to give her.” She sat under the willow tree and began to cry even louder.

“Where’d you lose the money?”

Trina shrugged. “I have a hole in my pocket. I’ve looked all over, but I can’t find the dollars.”

Jared reached for the squashed brownie. “You can take this if you want. At least it’s something. Becky will understand.”

Trina shook her head and cried.

I fidgeted on the picnic bench, feeling sort of empty inside.

“Shoot! Don’t cry, Trina,” Jared burst out. “We’ll give you two dollars.”

“Two dollars!” I put my arms protectively around our little pile of money. “What about the colt?”

“Well,” Jared said, shrugging. “We don’t have enough for the colt, anyway. In fact, we don’t even have any place to put the colt if we could buy it. Couldn’t we give her two dollars?”

I shook my head furiously, still thinking of Woody’s colt. Then Trina sobbed again, and I wondered what it would be like to have to stay away from a birthday party because I’d lost my present. “Oh, all right—we’ll give her the two dollars.”

Jared handed Trina our only two dollar bills, and her face lighted up with the happiest grin that I’d ever seen. It was so big that it spread right over to my face too. “Oh, thank you!” she squealed, jumping to her feet. “You’re the best friends ever.”

I felt a warm, happy tickle in my stomach. “You might as well take this, too,” I said, pushing another dollar’s worth of change toward her.

“Oh, no,” she said. “You have to save something for your colt.”

I shrugged. “We still have over a dollar left. That’s plenty.”

As Trina headed down the street to Becky’s party, I broke the last brownie in two, and handed the bigger piece to Jared. The happy feeling that we had was lots better than a colt any day.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn