Ollie heard it first, a tentative rapping on the storm door like they really didn’t want to bother you.
He stood up looking around and then started barking.
The scene I found was pure American Gothic, only instead of an aged couple, two kids stood before me. Both held rakes. She was taller than him with long hair. She wore tights and sandals. His hair was black and flopped in bangs across his forehead.
“We could rake the leaves,” he said pointing to the forsythia bushes that line the stockade fence out front.
Ollie had stopped his barking and seemed to be looking at me for an answer.
The girl looked anxious.
“What are you going to use the money for?” I asked.
“We want to get our mother a Mother’s Day present,” the girl said.
I was impressed. Impressed that two kids had taken the initiative to raise some money on their own. Impressed that they were doing it for their mother, if that was really the case. And impressed even if that wasn’t the case and they had dreamed up such a story.
“What are you going to get her?”
The girl had that answer, too. They were going to buy flowers at Stop & Shop.
It was a deal. How could I say no to flowers on Mother’s Day?
She gave me a big smile. He looked ready to get started as soon as I gave him the word.
“You’re going to need this,” I said reaching for one of the yard waste bags still on a pile on the front porch. Carol had bought them earlier in the week. The boy took it and headed for the bushes. Ollie followed. The girl brought up the rear.
There was no dallying. The two of them went at the job with a vengeance. A pile of leaves and broken sticks grew like a wave on the lawn.
By now I had a few more details. They live near Conimicut Village center, having moved there two to three months ago. They are two of eight children in the family, and although taller than her brother, she is in the third grade and he is in the fifth.
“Have you got some clippers?” he asked emerging from the entanglement of forsythia branches.
I got him a pair.
He went on the attack while his sister continued to pile up the leaves. I gave her a hand filling the bag.
“Can I get another one?” she asked.
She ran to the porch. Ollie lay on the lawn, if that’s what the brown crabgrass of last summer can be called, and watched.
The forsythia was pretty well chopped back and fearing unless I found something else for the boy to do there wouldn’t be much left, I directed him to the side of the yard. It is there that I do battle with the pickers. When we bought the house almost 40 years ago, I was elated to find them imagining the former owner had cultivated raspberries. I was mistaken.
This is an aggressive, thorny plant whose underground runners invade the nearby vegetable garden and send spiked shoots popping up along our neighbor’s fence. If left, they’ll send up stalks reaching five or six feet.
The boy was up to the challenge. The spring crop of pickers was no contest for this kid. The clipper jaws closed on one stalk after the next.
“Did you get pricked?”
“No, I’m fine,” he replied.
“He did,” his sister let on.
I found them both a pair of gloves. His hung limply on his hands. He looked clownish, but carried on.
In half an hour they had filled four bags. I was impressed.
“Do you want me to drive you to get the flowers?”
“My father’s going to take us. We’re having a barbecue,” she reported proudly.
I surveyed the work and told them what a great job they had done before heading to the house for my wallet.
The boy handed me the gloves. I handed him a 20. He went to get his skateboard. She had the rakes.
“What kind of flowers are you going to get?”
“Red,” the girl replied.
I had the feeling the Mother’s Day story was going to be repeated and that had me encouraged.
I was meeting the next generation of entrepreneurs … and they are hard workers.