Waking, nine-year-old Jacob could smell the wonderful aroma of breakfast drifting from the kitchen, and he excitedly yelled, “Pancakes!”
Jacob loved pancakes, especially his mom’s. In fact, the only thing better than his mom’s pancakes was his mom’s French toast.
The smell of pancakes cooking on the griddle made Jacob forget his problem for a minute – but only for a minute. Then he remembered that his dad’s birthday was Saturday – only two days away. The problem was that Jacob only had a dollar and thirty-seven cents to spend on a gift. What kind of present could he buy with that kind of money?
Jacob’s older brother and sister both had jobs. Fifteen-year-old Keith mowed yards, trimmed shrubs and bushes, and painted fences for the neighbors. In fact, he was so busy working for others that he rarely had time to mow his own yard anymore. Kitty, who was thirteen, earned money babysitting for neighbors. So, for their dad’s birthday, Keith and Kitty were pooling their money together and taking the family to Pizza Joe’s Friday night.
Running into the kitchen in his stocking feet, Jacob slid across the room’s tile floor and over to his chair at the table.
“I’ve asked you not to do that, Jacob,” his mother said, frowning. “One of these days you’re going to fall and hurt yourself.”
“Sorry,” Jacob mumbled.
His father looked up from the paper, then went back to reading it. Keith was wolfing down his pancakes, and Kitty was picking at hers. She preferred cereal and milk, which Jacob didn’t understand at all.
“I’ve got three yards to mow today,” Keith said proudly, adding, “and Mr. Wolf asked me to trim his shrubs. Yep, I’ve got a busy day.”
Keith’s announcement was simply to rub it in that their dad wouldn’t let Jacob use the mower until he turned ten, which was still three months away. Jacob wanted to make a face at his brother, but he knew he would be scolded by his mother if he did, so he ignored him instead.
“Are you going to have time to mow our lawn, Keith?” their father asked.
“I don’t think so, Dad,” Keith said.
Their father mumbled something about having to do it himself after church on Sunday.
“You could teach me to mow, and I’ll do it for you, Dad,” Jacob said. “I could do it for your birthday, and you wouldn’t even have to pay me.”
“Jacob,” his father said, “I’ve told you before that I’m not going to let you mow until you’re ten, and that’s final. So don’t ask again.”
Jacob was sure he could do it safely, but there was no use trying to talk his dad into it.
“How many pancakes, Jacob?” his mom asked.
His face brightened at the thought of pancakes and real maple syrup, not the imitation stuff, and he replied, “Three, please.”
His mother put a plate in front of him with three golden-brown pancakes on it, and he reached for the butter and syrup. Then he ate slowly, enjoying every single bite.
Heading up the street on his skateboard, Jacob stopped at every house along the way, asking if anyone had any little jobs he could do for them to earn some spending cash.
At every door, the answer was the same: “No, no, no. Nothing for a nine-year-old boy.”
Not ready to give up yet, Jacob paused in front of Mr. and Mrs. Crump’s house. They were new to the neighborhood, and it looked like they could use some help getting their place fixed up. The yard needed mowed, the shrubs and bushes needed trimmed, the flower garden needed weeding, and the porch was in need of a fresh coat of paint.
All the neighborhood kids were scared of the Crumps, although none of them could say why. Nobody knew of anything they had actually done to warrant being feared, but the kids were scared anyway.
Jacob took a deep breath, then walked slowly to the front door and knocked. He was somewhat relieved when there was no answer right away. As he stood there trying to decide whether to knock again or just walk away, the door opened slightly.
“Yes,” an older man said.
“Uh, hi, Mr. Crump. I’m Jacob, and I live on the next block over. I was wondering if you had any little jobs I could do for you?”
“Well, Jacob, I’m mighty glad you stopped by,” Mr. Crump said pleasantly, smiling at the youngster. “Not too many of you kids ever ask to help an old man. Can you mow?”
“No, sir,” Jacob said. “My dad won’t let me use a mower until I’m ten, which isn’t for three more months.”
“Well, then, do you think you could help me pull the weeds from the vegetable garden?” Mr. Crump asked.
“Really?” Jacob asked, excited that he finally had a real job. “Sure, if you show me how to do it.”
“We’ll do it together. The weeds are out of control, and my wife’s been wanting it done for weeks now, but I’ve been putting off. Come around to the gate on the side of the house,” Mr. Crump said, pointing, “and I’ll meet you there in a minute.”
Jacob hurried to where he was to meet his new boss and waited. A moment later, Mr. Crump came out wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and carrying two garden trowels.
“You should always wear a hat when working outside in the sun, Jacob,” Mr. Crump said. “Do you have one?”
“Yes, sir, at home,” Jacob replied.
Mr. Crump turned and went into the door of the back porch and returned a moment later with another straw hat.
“Here, put this on. It will protect you from the sun’s rays. I don’t want you getting sunburned on your first day on the job,” he said, grinning.
A minute later, Mr. Crump showed Jacob how to tell the weeds from the plants. Jacob listened carefully, and soon the pair were pulling weeds and talking. Jacob chattered about his upcoming school year, his church youth group, how Keith and Kitty were treating the family to pizza for their dad’s birthday, and how he wanted to give his dad a special present but didn’t have enough money.
Mr. Crump listened intently as Jacob talked the afternoon away, until the sun’s shadows lengthened toward evening, and they were finished pulling weeds. Jacob was surprised at how quickly the afternoon had gone by. He’d had fun, and he was sorry it was over so soon.
“You’re a good helper, Jacob,” Mr. Crump said. “If you’d like to leave me your phone number, I’ll call you when I need help with another project.”
“Oh, sure, Mr. Crump,” Jacob said. “I would like that very much.”
“Here, this is for all your hard work today,” Mr. Crump said, handing the boy a ten-dollar bill and a small piece of paper for his phone number.
“Wow! Thank you,” Jacob said.
Ten dollars for having fun digging in the dirt was too good to be true. Jacob quickly wrote down his phone number and handed the paper back to Mr. Crump, then jumped on his skateboard and headed home.
That evening, seated at the dinner table, Jacob’s parents, along with his brother and sister, couldn’t get over how excited Jacob was about his job as he chattered on and on about what he’d learned working with Mr. Crump.
Shortly after Jacob rolled out of bed the next morning, he heard the telephone ring.
As he walked into the kitchen, he heard his mom say, “Well, thank you. I’ll talk to his dad about it, and we’ll let you know. Hold on just a minute, and I’ll get Jacob for you.”
She handed the phone to her youngest son and said, “It’s for you.”
“Hello? This is Jacob,” the boy said.
“Well, hello, Jacob. This is Mr. Crump. Can you come over and help me trim my shrubs today?”
“Sure! When do you want me to be there?” Jacob asked.
“How about an hour or so?” Mr. Crump asked.
“I’ll be there,” Jacob exclaimed.
He hung up the phone and ran toward his bedroom. He jumped into some clothes and grabbed a baseball cap to keep the sun from beating down on his head, just as Mr. Crump had taught him the day before. Then he ran back to the kitchen and gobbled down a bowl of cold cereal, a piece of toast and some orange juice. When he was finished, he put his plate and glass in the sink, then headed out the door for his job. Oh, boy, did he like the sound of that – his job!
Jacob hopped on his bicycle and sped down the driveway and up the street to Mr. and Mrs. Crump’s house. When he arrived, Mr. Crump was just coming around the house from the gate, carrying a large sheet of plastic and two paper waste bags. A rake and hedge clippers were already sitting on the front porch.
When he saw Jacob, Mr. Crump smiled and said, “Good, you’re here. Ready to go to work?”
Jacob didn’t speak, he simply returned the smile and nodded his head yes.
“I see you remembered a hat today,” Mr. Crump said. “Did you remember to bring a pair of gloves to protect your hands from getting blisters?”
Jacob didn’t have any work gloves. All he had was the pair of mittens he wore to school when it was cold.
“No, sir, I didn’t,” Jacob said.
“Not to worry,” Mr. Crump said, then disappeared, returning a moment later with a pair of brown jersey work gloves. “Try these on.”
Jacob took them and put them on, then said, “They’re kind of big.”
“That they are,” Mr. Crump said, “but they’ll protect your hands nonetheless. Gloves that are too big are less of a problem than blisters. Trust me.”
The two spread the plastic sheet beneath the shrubs, then Mr. Crump explained to Jacob what he wanted him to do. As Mr. Crump trimmed the bushes, Jacob raked the clippings and put them in the waste bags.
As Jacob and Mr. Crump were finishing the bushes, Mrs. Crump came out onto the porch carrying a pitcher of lemonade.
“Anyone thirsty?” she asked.
Jacob’s eyes lit up as he headed for the porch, where the cool refreshment awaited him.
“Jacob,” Mrs. Crump said, “I’m sure glad you came by yesterday to offer us your services. We’re finally getting some things done around here that I’ve wanted done for some time now. And Henry, I mean Mr. Crump, says you’re very good help.”
“Thank you,” Jacob said, smiling at the praise.
“Yes, indeed,” Mr. Crump said, coming to join them. “You’re such good help, in fact, that I’d like you to come back Sunday morning to help me start chipping off the paint on the porch.”
“I won’t be able to help until after church and Sunday school,” Jacob said. “I like going to church. Hey, maybe you and Mrs. Crump could go with us. I’m sure you’d love our church.”
The couple looked at one another and smiled, then looked back at Jacob, and Mrs. Crump said, “Perhaps.”
Mr. Crump handed Jacob another ten-dollar bill for his help, and Jacob thanked him for the money, and Mrs. Crump for the lemonade. Then he walked to his bike and headed home.
The birthday celebration that evening at Pizza Joe’s was a success, especially since Jacob was able to help pay part of the bill with the money he’d earned working for Mr. Crump.
When they got home, Jacob was exhausted, so he went to bed.
Early the next morning, Jacob heard the telephone ring. He was lying on his bed trying to wake up completely when his dad came in.
“Good morning, son,” his dad said. “Mr. Crump just called. He told me how impressed he is with the way your mom and I are raising such a fine young man. He also told me that when I teach you to mow, he wants to hire you to mow his yard.”
“Wow, Dad, really?”
“Yes, really,” his father said. “Your mom and I want you to know how proud of you we are.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Jacob said. “Oh, and happy birthday.”
“You’ve given me the best birthday present any dad could ask for – a son to be proud of. “Mr. Crump also said he and his wife were so impressed with you that they would like to join us for church tomorrow. Good job, Jacob.”
Jacob smiled, happy that he had made his parents proud.
“Oh, and one more thing, Jacob. Since you’ve shown what a responsible young man you are, I’m changing my mind about waiting until you’re ten to learn to mow. I’m going to teach you to mow this afternoon. Then you’ll have two mowing jobs – Mr. Crump and me. I’ll pay you the same amount he pays you.
“Wow! Cool,” Jacob exclaimed.
“Son, you’ve taught me a lesson in all this,” his dad said. “You taught me that age is simply a number that has nothing to do with how a young man is maturing.”
Just then, Jacob’s mom peeked in through the door and smiled at her husband as she asked, “What would the birthday boy like for breakfast this morning?”
Glancing at Jacob, his dad winked and said, “How about some of your famous French toast?” Then he looked back at Jacob and said, “How does that sound to you?”
“Awesome,” Jacob said with a smile.