Twelve-year-old Ramon placed the steel ring up around the bottom of the pear to determine its size. The ring slipped easily about it. No, Ramon thought, this pear won’t do—it’s still too small.
He tried another pear, and the ring wouldn’t fit around the fruit’s greatest width. “Good,” he said out loud to the old dog, Cleveland, lying in the shade at the bottom of the tree. Ramon picked the pear and placed it in the almost-filled sack that hung over his head and shoulder.
He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat off his face. A little breeze wound its way through the long rows of fruit trees. It felt good—but not as good as the cold lemonade his grandmother had made for him.
Ramon climbed down the ladder, placed his pickings in a basket, and sat down beside the dog. He unscrewed the lid from the canteen and took a long drink. Resting against the tree, he stroked the big dog and gazed down the length of the big orchard. From where he sat, he could count twelve baskets of fruit. “Not bad for one morning, huh, Cleveland? Grandpa Alban will be happy. He’ll have a lot of fruit for his stand today.”
The boy dug in his shirt pocket and took out a small, worn photograph. Posed beside him in the picture was his mother. He ran his finger across her countenance, and his eyes misted. It was the first time since he’d been adopted that he’d been away from her. Linsey and her husband, Peter, had taken the legal measures to make him a part of their family when he was only two years old. Now Peter was dead.
Ramon rested his head against the tree trunk and gazed down the road that wound past the orchard to his grandparents’ home. About two months before, he had ridden down that road with his mother. It had been a two-day trip by car from Horsely Springs, where he and his mother shared a small apartment.
More than once while they traveled, his mom’s eyes had welled up with tears at the thought of not seeing him for the summer. But a decision had been made after earnest prayer, and she knew that he would be in good hands with her parents. Her lack of education and experience had made the going rough for them, but a special three-month training class being offered back east would qualify her for a better-paying job. “I know I can do it, Ramon,” she assured him. “With God on our side, there isn’t anything we can’t do.”
Ramon admired and took great comfort in his mother’s courage and faith. He was trying to build up his own faith. He was sure that the pear ring on the ground beside him would easily fit around his faith, but he was confident that it would grow, just like the fruit that the old man had nurtured so well. The two young missionaries who had brought the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to him and his mother last year had promised that, with effort, it would, indeed, grow.
A little cloud of dust above the far end of the orchard told Ramon that Grandpa Alban’s flatbed truck was on its way to collect the baskets of picked fruit. Ramon warmed at the sight of his grandfather.
Grandpa Alban poked his head out the truck window as he neared, his eyes rounding at the sight of the long row of baskets brimming with fruit. “I said it before, young man, and I’ll say it again: I’ve never seen a better picker in all my days!”
Ramon chuckled and pointed to the old dog at his feet. “Well, Grandpa, I have a good helper.”
A hearty laugh burst out of Grandpa. “I figure you have a raise coming, son.”
“You pay me enough already, Grandpa.”
The old man smiled but insisted, “Didn’t your sweet mama ever tell you that it’s easier to argue with a fence post than with your grandpa? Besides,” he added, “you’ve earned it.”
“I’ll put it toward my mission,” Ramon relented with a happy enthusiasm that puzzled his grandfather.
“You really feel strong about that church you and your mama joined, don’t you? Most kids your age with money to spend would sink it into video games, movies, or whatever.”
“I won’t save it all for my mission, Grandpa,” Ramon assured him. “Ten percent of it goes to tithing, and a little more of it I’ll give you toward gas to drive me to church each Sunday.”
Grandpa shook his head. “This church of yours requires a lot of sacrifice, it seems to me.”
“The missionaries told us that sacrifice brings blessings. Like Mom is sacrificing now so she can get a better job to take care of us. It isn’t easy for either of us, but …” Ramon hesitated, searching for the words to explain. Then he said, “You have a beautiful orchard, Grandpa, with a lot of beautiful fruit.” He held up the sizing ring. “Almost every piece of fruit I held this ring to was too big to go through. You had to sacrifice, Grandpa, for this orchard to grow the way it has. You had to spend a lot of time working and tending it—” Ramon picked up a large piece of fruit from the basket—“but look what your sacrifice brings.”
Grandpa smiled. “Hey, Ramon, who’s teaching who here?”
That night the high-pitched whine of a mosquito awoke Grandpa. He slapped at it, then lay waiting for sleep to again overtake him. He noticed a light shining beneath Ramon’s door across the hall. Lifting himself up on an elbow, Grandpa Alban gazed at it curiously. The creak of the bed awoke Grandma. “What is it, honey?” she asked.
“That light under Ramon’s door. It’s—” he glanced at the clock—“it’s after eleven o’clock! What could Ramon be doing at this time of night?”
Grandma smiled. “He does the same thing every night.”
“Does what, Francie?”
“From a book of scriptures he has, called the Book of Mormon. Go back to sleep dear, he’ll be just fine.”
How can anyone work all day and then stay up so late reading? he wondered as he drifted off to sleep.
The screech of a hawk circling above cut through the silence of the noonday sky like a paring knife. Ramon took the handkerchief from his pocket and tied it about his head to keep the sweat from running down into his eyes. He climbed down the ladder, filled a basket, and picked up the container of lemonade. He was about to take a swallow, when he spied what looked like his grandfather seated under a tree at the far end of the orchard. That’s unusual, he thought. Grandpa never just sits. He’s always busy doing something. Maybe he’s sick.
Ramon walked quickly to where his grandfather sat. Grandpa Alban was gazing off into the hills, his eyes wet with tears. When Ramon made his presence known, Grandpa tried to mend his composure.
“Are you all right, Grandpa?”
“Actually, no,” he said, his open candor taking Ramon aback. “I’ve just been pretending far too long that I am all right.”
Ramon sat down beside his grandfather. After a heavy silence, Grandpa went on. “I’m a proud man, Ramon. I always have been, I guess—too proud to ever own up to my mistakes. On top of that, I’ve always figured it would be too hard and painful to change. But something you said yesterday got me thinking. …”
What can I say? Ramon wondered. I don’t really know what he’s talking about. The boy offered a silent prayer for Heavenly Father’s help. Suddenly repentance and the Lord’s great plan of redemption that the missionaries had taught came to Ramon’s mind, and words came to his lips. He was so moved that he began to cry. This, in turn, deeply touched the old man, and he clung to every word that his grandson spoke.
It was two days later, just after Ramon had loaded two baskets of fruit into a customer’s car, that Ramon’s sapling faith began to flower. As he turned back toward the fruit stand, he saw a look on his grandfather’s face that he had never seen before. It was a look of sweet resolve, of courage. “What is it, Grandpa?”
“Would you mind if I went to church with you next Sunday, Ramon? I’d like to ask the missionaries to come talk to me.”
Later that afternoon, as Ramon picked fruit, he paused and gazed at the ring he held in his hand. He wondered if it would still fit around his faith—and his joy. He doubted it.