Once upon a time, in a very small village, there lived two brothers. Peter, the older brother, was very smart and strong. He did everything well.
He planted his garden in nice straight rows.
He gathered his hay and straw into neat bundles.
He fed his chickens and cow well.
He chopped wood exactly the right size and piled it neatly by his little stove.
He kept his little cottage and the shelters for his animals clean and dry.
Yes, Peter did everything well.
Putter, the younger brother, was also smart and strong, but he did very little well. He played his guitar very nicely, and he sang beautifully, but that is all he did well. People thought Putter was lazy. Peter loved his brother and his brother’s music, so he was content to do most of the work for both of them.
When Putter was little, he followed Peter around as he did his chores.
“Let me help you,” Putter would beg.
Peter would hand him seeds to drop into the straight rows that Peter had plowed. But soon he would yell, “Putter, stop! Your seeds are not exactly the same distance apart. You don’t know how to do this.”
“I can learn,” Putter said.
“I can do it better myself,” said Peter.
When he was a little bigger, Putter got some hay to feed the cow. “Stop!” said Peter. “You’re not taking the right amount, and you’re dropping some on the ground.”
“Show me the right way, and I’ll do it,” cried Putter.
“No, I’ll do it myself. Why don’t you try feeding the chickens.”
Putter scattered corn for the chickens and laughed as they clucked around him. But no sooner had he started than Peter came rushing over to the chicken coop. “Stop!” he yelled. “You’re feeding them too much. They’ll grow swollen and sick, and I’ll run out of chicken feed.”
“Just tell me how much to give them, Brother. I want to help,” said Putter.
“No, you can sing and play, but stay out of my way while I’m working.”
Putter and his cat, Matilda, walked to the oak tree. He sat under it and played his guitar. He sang sweet songs, but he was not happy.
When he grew to be a young man, Putter decided that he must help his brother more, so while Peter was out working, he made a meal for him. He sang while he cooked, and he served Peter a dinner of soup, fresh bread, milk, and apples.
“This soup has too little salt,” said Peter, “and the bread is not crusty enough. My bread isn’t, either, but it’s better than yours. You had best let me do the cooking.”
One day Putter said, “Brother, I am too big and strong to allow you to do all the work and take care of me. I will move to the cottage down the road and have my own little farm.”
“How will you manage?” asked Peter.
“I will learn,” said Putter. He packed his things, picked up his guitar, and set out down the road with Matilda following. He got a cow, some chickens, some seeds, and an ax. He sang while he worked, and he worked very hard. He played his guitar and waited for his garden to grow.
When the green shoots came out of the ground, they were weak and straggly and the rows were very crooked. Some seeds had been planted too deep and didn’t come up at all. Some had been planted too shallow and were washed away by the rain or eaten by the birds.
“Oh dear,” said Putter. “I won’t have enough corn for my chickens. But I see now what I did wrong.”
The hay he planted grew a little, but Putter did not know how to tie and stack it properly or when to bring it in. One night, rain soaked it and made it moldy. “Oh dear,” Putter said. “I worked hard, but now there won’t be enough hay for the cow. However, I see now what I should have done.”
Winter was coming, so Putter chopped wood for his fire. When the snows came, he put some of the wood into his little potbellied stove. But the pieces were too long, and he could not close the door, so the fire burned too quickly, and soon his supply of wood was gone.
Matilda sat beside him while he played a sad song on his guitar. “I’m sorry, Matilda,” he said. “I’m a failure. I must admit my faults and take you and the cow and the chickens to my brother’s home, or we will all starve.”
He knocked on Peter’s door, but his brother did not open it. He knocked again. A weak voice called, “Come in.”
Putter found his brother in bed, looking very ill. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I was chopping wood. One piece was not exactly the right size, and when I trimmed it, the ax slipped, and I cut my foot deeply.”
“How glad I am that I came. I’ll do your chores and care for you until you’re well.”
“Oh dear,” Peter moaned as soon as Putter had gone out to the barn.
Putter tied his thin cow in the stall next to Peter’s fat cow. He looked to see how much hay Peter had set out for his cow, then gave both cows that same amount.
He put his chickens in the yard with Peter’s chickens. He looked at the corn Peter had measured out to feed the chickens, then added another measure just like it to feed all of them.
The sky looked a little stormy, so he gathered the neat piles of hay and straw and put them under shelter.
While Peter slept, Putter made dinner. “This time I will taste the soup so I will use enough salt. And I will butter the top before I bake the bread. That will make it crustier.”
While the soup simmered and the bread baked, Putter gathered apples and milked the cows. He chopped wood, too, remembering to make the pieces smaller.
When Peter awoke, the cottage was warm and cozy and smelled of good things. He heard sweet music and smiled. “I’m very hungry, Brother,” he said.
Peter tasted the meal that Putter had made. “Why, this is fine food, Brother. How did you do it?” Putter just smiled and strummed his guitar.
Peter tried to climb out of bed. “I must feed our cows and the chickens,” he said.
“I have done that already,” said Putter, gently pushing him back into bed.
“But you don’t know how!” Peter exclaimed. “And it’s raining! The hay will be wet—the firewood too.”
“They are dry, and the wood is chopped and stacked by the stove.”
Peter scratched his head. “How did you learn so much so quickly, Brother?”
Putter smiled again. “By my mistakes, I suppose. When I first played my guitar, I made many mistakes. Then I learned what I did wrong, and I improved. But when I made mistakes helping you, you never let me try again. In my little house, I did everything wrong. But God has blessed me with the brains to see my mistakes, and I am learning. Did you never make mistakes before you got so smart, Brother?”
“I suppose I did.” Peter thought a while. “Come to think of it, I’m still making mistakes. I kept my strong, smart brother from helping me, and I cut my own foot trying to be perfect. I’ll probably make more mistakes, but I hope you’ll stay here and help me.”
Putter played a happy tune on his guitar, Matilda curled up by the stove, and Peter smiled and tapped the floor with the foot that didn’t hurt.
“Perhaps you will show me how to make that delicious crusty bread, Brother,” said Peter.
“Of course I will.” Putter’s eyes twinkled as he added, “And if it doesn’t turn out well, I’ll let you try again until you get it right.”