Friday, August 23, 2019
The Shrewd King 5.5: Spring is sprung
It was a banner day in late mid-May when a wagon pulled by a spritely team of horses pulled into the parking lot of Kate’s store.
The driver was wearing a straw hat and plain, blue serge trousers and a white, broadsheet, cotton shirt. His passenger was wearing the more typical blue jeans and denim shirt. The passenger was holding a pump shotgun.
Drawn by the sound of the horses, Kate left the store to investigate.
The wagon was filled with shelving, four full tiers of shelves and each shelf held nursery plants.
The driver, speaking in the slow, stilted cadence of the Amish announced, “We have extra tomato plants and such. Do you have any interest in buying them?”
Of course Kate was interested.
The Amish don’t watch TV. They don’t have internet. Rather, they talk to neighbors.
They saw the decline. The noticed when mail delivery ceased.
Their religion is strong. It teaches them to trust in God. They filled their greenhouses with seedlings like they had every year.
At some level they knew that many customers would not show up. Even the Amish community, as isolated as they are, had taken a 50% mortality hit. Business was less than brisk.
Even though the “English”, as they call the non-Amish, might make fun of them for not being aware of California or Chicago politics, the Amish are much more aware of local conditions than generally credited.
Most Amish take a very dim view of gossip. To them it is a classic case of ‘bearing false witness’. But if an Amish farmer clearly relates that he did not personally observe some event, but attributes it to another Amish person who did...then it is not bearing false witness.
Every notable, long-term resident of Eaton County and the seven counties touching Eaton County had a “reputation” in Eaton County’s Amish community. Most of the Amish lived in western Eaton County where the property values were lower but they were very aware of Rick and Kate Salazar.
One of the local Amish families had been visited by Child Protective Services. The children had been taken out of the home and placed into foster care
The mother's twin sister and her husband applied for foster-care. A young, over-zealous social worker performed their home-study and thoroughly trashed their fitness to be foster parents.
Completely out of their element, the couple approached one of their "English" neighbors and asked for help. He suggested that they pay Kate to perform the home-study, the only requirement was that it be performed by a State registered Social Worker.
Kate pulled a copy of the failed home-study and made a few notes.
When the man and woman greeted Kate at the door, she handed the man a small bag with three screw-hooks. She said, "Before I leave, these need to be installed above each outside door and I need to see a lighted lantern hanging from each hook."
Verifying each item of the home study, she hit a snag at "inside plumbing".
The prospective foster mother said they had a cistern and a hand pump.
Kate said, "Now that you mention it, I am thirsty. Can we walk to the kitchen and get a glass of water?"
Sure enough, there was a cistern and the water was potable. Kate drained the glass tumbler.
When asked how they handled toileting when folks were sick or there was a blizzard, the woman showed Kate a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat fixed to the top. There was sawdust in the bottom of the bucket.
Walking around the house before she left, Kate saw a lantern mounted above, and to the side of each door and they were burning.
Kate did not falsify the home-study. She penciled in the word "equivalent" and initialed the change above the requirement that a 100 Watt light bulb be mounted above every exterior exit door. She noted that the house was "Compliant" for indoor plumbing.
The court hearing was a walk-in-the-park. The judge knew Kate from previous encounters and considered her "squeaky clean."
After that, Kate had a trickle of business from Amish families from Branch County to Isabella and Clare County and everywhere in between. Somehow they all knew that she needed to see lanterns above every door and would ask for a glass of water.
Rick’s gifting of hundreds of apple pies had not gone un-noted by the Amish community. The Amish believe in personal intercession in matters of charity. Anonymous gifting exposes the giver to the sin of feeling ‘better than’ those who receive the charity.
Word of Kate’s store and the difficulties she had endured at the hands of the “worldly princes”, as the Amish saw them, had further endeared the couple to the Amish.
Finding themselves with a gross surplus of nursery stock that was rapidly outgrowing the space in their greenhouses, the bishop (who is selected every year by drawing the short straw) held a short conference with the growers. Whether Kate knew it or not, she was about to get a gift of Amish charity.
Kate knew a gift when she saw one.
The plants were stocky and a deep, deep green. Each five-plant-pack was clearly labeled. Kate did not recognize the names of the varieties.
“These are beautiful plants” she said. Amish don’t hold with baseless flattery but they do appreciate when a person observes a provable fact.
“What can you tell me about these varieties?” Kate asked.
The driver was more than happy to tell her about each variety. After a minute of high speed, for the Amish anyway, description….Kate ran into the store and grabbed a pencil and note pad.
Every year the Amish planted more than fifty different varieties of tomatoes and half as many peppers. Many of them are trendy, hybrid varieties or obscure, unproven heirloom varieties that are written up in magazines and customers ask for by name. Those were the plants that paid the bills. Others are older varieties that withstood the test of time. Those are the ones that the Amish bought and planted in their own, personal gardens.
The nurserymen asked the bishop, “Which plants should we sell them?”
The young bishop closed his eyes and prayed for two, full minutes. Opening his eyes he said, “Suppose your son asked you for a fish. Would you give him a snake?”
“We will sell the English, Rick and Kate, the tomatoes we would give to our sons and daughters the first year they are married.”
The wagon was loaded with Super Sioux, Polish Linguisa, Golden Jubilee and Stupice tomato plants and Hungarian Wax hot pepper plants. Notably, there was not a single cherry tomato or fainting, boutique variety included in the delivery.
Big, vigorous plants that could duke it out with weeds and drought. Plants that would pay their rent by producing reasonable amounts of fruit under even the most adverse conditions. Garden plants for neophytes to learn on.
Kate was floored by the generosity. “I will take the lot” she said. “But I don’t know what I can pay you.”
“I know you have grain and hay and firewood” she said. “You are free to look around and see if there is anything you need. We can settle up after you look around.”
Kate did not know it but the driver had no intention of taking any of the plants back home. This was not a sales run. It was a delivery run.
Frankly, there was not much in Kate’s inventory that interested the Amish driver. He purchased all of Kate’s inventory of soy oil. Then, noticing the bucket of ground limestone he asked, “What are you asking for the chicken grit.”
Kate had to make a quick decision. She could have sold him the bucket at retail but she realized that the Amish community needed far more than a five gallon bucket of ground limestone.
“That is for my my mom-and-pop customers. Tell you what I want to do. Let me write you a chit that you can give my supplier, Shadrack Shaw. He will load as much on your wagon as you want and bill it back to me” Kate said. “Shad’s family lives about three hundred yards south of here. They have a pond in front and a big hickory tree right by their drive.”
The Amish gentleman nodded. That was a good deal. Two thousand tomato and pepper plants that were headed to the compost heap in exchange for a thousand pounds of ground limestone and twenty gallons of soy oil was a great deal any day of the week. The deal was made.
"Is there anything else you might be wanting that we might have?" the Amish gentleman asked.
Kate took a quick look at her chalk board. "Do you have seeds of any open pollinated corn varieties?" she asked.
"We can probably spare fifty pounds of a couple of different varieties." the man ventured. "It is getting late for planting corn. Maybe I should come again mid-week. Do you think you will need more plants then?"
The Amish gentleman promised another delivery of plants and a hundred pounds of seed corn for three days later. It was not as if they had customers beating the doors of their greenhouses down to buy their inventory.
Good will and an honest deal cemented a business relationship.