Mike woke to the bark of Clancy, his collie. Leaving dreams of county fairs and blue ribbons behind, he dressed quickly and clattered downstairs for a pre-breakfast look at his magnificent melon. Almost as large as a volleyball, it rose from the leaves of its vine like the moon above clouds—a prize-winner for sure. Loosening the dirt around the stem, Mike thought back to the day in spring when he’d found the tiny seedling growing by the corral.
“It looks like a cantaloupe,” Dad had said. “Don’t expect much from it though. It’s a volunteer.”
Mike was on his hands and knees, studying the new plant. “Volunteer?”
“Volunteers aren’t planted,” Dad explained. “A seed just happens to fall somewhere, then sends down shallow roots that don’t permit much growth.”
“This one is going to grow,” Mike insisted. “I’m going to make sure it does!”
Dad smiled. “Go for it, Son. Work the dirt up around it and keep it watered. Who knows what might happen.”
Mike had followed his father’s advice, and the little seedling grew into a healthy vine. One day as he was spading around his plant, Dad put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve really stuck with this,” he said. “I think you’re ready for something even bigger. When Gertrude has her calf, it’s yours to raise.”
Mike gave a whoop and punched the air. The best of their four milk cows, Gertrude was to give birth any day.
One night Mike was awakened by Clancy’s excited barking. He was about to get up to see what was happening, when Mom came in. “The vet’s here,” she said. “Gertrude had her calf, and everything’s fine. Go back to sleep and see it in the morning.”
Certain that he wouldn’t sleep a wink, Mike dutifully closed his eyes. When he opened them again, sunlight filled the room, and Clancy was issuing his good-morning bark. For the first time in days, Mike didn’t head straight to his cantaloupe plant. Instead, he ran to the barn.
“He’s beautiful!” Mike exclaimed. “I’m going to name him Melon, because he’ll be an award winner too. Look! He’s standing up already.”
“These little guys stand almost as soon as they’re born, Mike. Before long, he’ll be frisking all about his ma.” Dad frowned. “That reminds me—there are a couple of boards loose in the corral fence by the barn. You’d better nail them down right away. We don’t want this young ‘un getting out and rambling all over the property.”
Mike made a mental note to do it—right after he checked his melon plant. But he was so pleased with the blossoms he found blooming from the vine that he forgot all about the corral fence. Over the next few days, he noticed that some of the blossoms grew from small green knobs—cantaloupes! Following Dad’s instructions, he carefully chose the most likely one and nipped off all the others so that the plant’s strength would all go into one prize-winning melon. As the summer days passed, he “babied” his melon, and it grew splendidly.
His calf grew too. Soon it was eating hay as well as suckling its mother. “I’m going to have two blue-ribbon winners,” Mike told Dad when he went to breakfast, “a melon and Melon.”
A couple of mornings later, he was again awakened by Clancy’s barking. But this time Clancy sounded frantic. Something was wrong! Racing downstairs, Mike found the dog trying to herd a confused calf back into the corral. A few yards to the left, where the melon plant should have been, was nothing but chewed and tattered leaves and bits of broken and trampled cantaloupe. As Mike stared at the mess, a great rage filled him. He snatched up a piece of the melon rind and cocked his arm. “All right!” he shrilled. “You want cantaloupe, I’ll give you cantaloupe!” Before he could hurl the piece of rind at the bewildered calf, a hand gripped his wrist from behind.
“There’s no need for a tantrum.” Dad’s voice was calm.
“But that stupid calf ruined my plant!” Mike’s anger had him nearly in tears. “I worked on it all summer, and just look at it!”
“How did Melon get out of the corral, Mike?”
Mike eyed the loose boards—the ones he had promised to fix so long ago. …
Dad let the silence grow long, then asked, “Did you do your job?”
Mike scuffed his toe on the ground. “I meant to,” he said in a small voice. “I guess I just kind of forgot.”
Dad put an arm around his son’s shoulder. “Mike, you worked hard with that melon. Your mother and I are proud of what you did. If it hadn’t been for a nosy calf and an unfinished job, you might have had a prizewinner.”
“And now I have nothing.”
“You have a fine calf with a good appetite. And if you’ve learned from your mistake, you have something even better—a bit of wisdom. Sometimes disaster is opportunity disguised.”
Mike’s gaze strayed from the ruined plant to Clancy and Melon and then to the loose boards on the corral. Finally he looked up. “Dad,” he said, “this was a blue-ribbon disaster for sure. But it’s a blue-ribbon lesson, too, and I won’t forget it. I’m going to take such good care of Melon that he’ll be a prize-winning calf! Come on, Clancy, let’s get him back in the corral and nail up those boards. This is one Melon that’s going to the fair.”