Bronwyn MacRitchie, of Cardiff South, is a finalist in the Newcastle Herald's annual short story competition with this entry, The Veggie Patch.
Finalists will be revealed daily until the winner is announced on Saturday, January 25 2020.
Check out the full list of finalists so far here.
Read last year's finalists here.
Dad plonked a bulging shoe box jammed with packets of seeds on the breakfast table between the vegemite and melting butter. 'Today,' he announced,' we're going to build a veggie patch. Everyone will pitch in.'
Everyone was my brother Rob and me. Mum was stuffing dirty clothes into the washing machine, humming. 'But it's school holidays,' said Rob, rifling through the box, nose scrunched up at turnip, swede and cabbage.
'What's wrong with bought veggies, Dad?' I asked.
'Can't beat fresh ones, Barb. Planting the seeds, watching them grow then picking them straight from the garden ...'
Crikey, here we go.
'...one day, you will have a garden of your own, so today you might learn something useful ...'
'When I was a lad, we grew all our own ...'
When Dad finished his half-hour lecture, we followed him outside to where a shovel, spade, and a couple of crowbars stuck out of the wheelbarrow dwarfed by the sprouting weeds.
'Right. First we mark the area. No point in doing any unnecessary digging, eh kids?'
As far as I was concerned building a veggie patch was not on my list of holiday activities. 'This is a good spot,' Dad said grabbing an old hose from the wheelbarrow and snaking it through the weeds in a curved line. From the size of the area, I figured we were embarking on a market garden, providing enough produce for the street. This would take the entire holidays. 'Okay kids,' said Dad. 'Dig in.'
My brother lifted the pick from the wheelbarrow and dragged it into the centre of the patch, lifted it above his head and let out a squeaky Tarzan call then thrust the pick into the ground where barely the tip was buried.
'You'll need to work on that a bit, son,' said Dad.
I wasn't certain if he meant the Tarzan call or the digging, but when he looked sideways at me grinning it brightened the mood. We shovelled and levelled, filling the barrow with weeds and removing stones. We worked all morning and I rubbed my blisters, thinking my dream of becoming a concert pianist and performing with the Newcastle Orchestra was evaporating along with my enthusiasm. As far as I was concerned, bought vegetables were just fine and who needs to grow their own?
When Dad was satisfied the veggie patch had been turned over enough and large stones replaced the hose for the boarder, he added dolomite and chook poo. 'Look at that,' he said, standing back with his hands on his hips, eyes roving over the freshly dug earth. 'Makes a man proud when he's got his own piece of land so he can till the soil and grow his own veggies.'
'Till the soil?' I asked.
Rob gazed skywards and let out an exasperated sigh when I realised this was an opportune moment for Dad to present another life lesson. He lent on his shovel and gazed into the distance and I wondered if he was thinking of rows of plump cabbages and tasty fresh carrots when he began.
'One day you'll appreciate that everything is not handed to you on a plate ...'
Rob leaned on his shovel, feigning interest as Dad continued his talk about gratitude and sacrifice. I squatted on the ground and watched ants navigate a new pathway across the ground.
'... so perhaps you'll keep that in mind, next time,' said Dad.
'Time to put the tools away,' said Dad. 'We plant tomorrow.'
The following day we planted seeds. I began with one at a time placing them carefully along the small channel.
'Crikey, we'll be here all day if you do it like that,' said Dad. 'Like this.' He took a small handful and sprinkled them in random rows.'
We planted pumpkins, carrots, radishes, watermelon, tomatoes and cucumbers. Rob and I carted bath and washing water and bucketed it into channels. I wanted immediate results but vegetable growing was as slow as a school term.
After a couple of weeks, the tiny green tops of the radishes had appeared in clumps rather than the neat lines I'd expected to see.
'You'll see the fruits of your labour next holidays,' said Dad. 'The beds will be bursting with veggies.'
By December, the pumpkin vines were splendid and spread through the weeds, grass and footpaths. They covered the rock pile and were headed across to the shed. Pumpkins dangled from crude frames encased in Mum's old stockings and stretched to capacity. The watermelons, sheltered beneath their leaves, grew along the ground with determination to overthrow the pumpkins.
Radishes and carrots had been crowded out by the creeping vines and one tomato plant struggled to maintain its position in the centre of the patch. The vines climbed up the fence to engulf the empty chook pen.
Over the weeks, Dad inspected and measured the pumpkins, most of which survived. The watermelons were treated with equal reverence as he stepped between the each, tape measure around his neck, notebook in hand muttering, tapping and measuring his charges waiting for them to ripen. More often than not, it would be all at the same time, thus causing a glut of meals with pumpkin followed by a healthy slice of watermelon. Our moans were greeted with comments about starving Africans.
The only vegetables Dad had success with were pumpkin and watermelon. As we ate our way through them, we couldn't match his enthusiasm as he presented us with another home-grown watermelon.
Hot weather, poor rainfall and our declining interest were conditions favourable for the weeds. They flourished, while the vines withered and died.
Horticulture was abandoned and the chook pen was renovated to suit seven chickens and a duck.