Long Row

A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.

“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.

“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”

He didn’t get it.

With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.

“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began my story.

My grandmother was a master gardener – not certified, but instinctual. Nannie used one green thumb in her flower beds and the other in her massive vegetable garden. It was no garden for the weak as it fed her and the families of each of her five children. All pitched in. On most evenings you could see some combination of aunts, uncles, and cousins pulling, picking, weeding, or watering somewhere along the lengthy rows.

One year Nannie planted more tomatoes than usual. It was work enough to keep vines picked clean on a normal year, but that was a good tomato year and there were additional rows. Somebody was going to have their work cut out for them.

“Somebody” that year was me and my cousin Jan.

I didn’t recall our volunteering for tomato duty. Still, Jan and I ended up on the front lines the morning Nannie called to say there were tomatoes to be picked. We walked casually towards the long rows, empty buckets swinging from our hands, not bothered in the least by a few silly tomatoes. The picking began.

“I’ll never finish.” I moaned.

Sweat dripped from Jan’s nose as she bent to pick another tomato. She seemed to be handling the season pretty well so far. She always loved tomatoes.

“I hate tomatoes.” she stood slowly with a full bucket.

Once tomato vines start producing they don’t stop so the picking was a daily chore. The first week of the season Jan and I met under the grape arbor to have a few laughs before starting. This would be fun. By the second week we weren’t laughing. This wasn’t fun.

We didn’t pick alone. Nannie was right there with us and if she wasn’t it was only because she was shelling beans, pulling corn, or freezing or canning one ripe thing or another. Weeks into the season and Nannie never faltered. Each morning she’d grab a bucket, hum a hymn, and walk methodically down a tomato row. Jan and I limped along behind her.

The rows were so long that I swore green tomatoes I passed at the beginning were ripe before I got to the end. Each tomato became a lead weight and the end of each row seemed farther away than before. Jan and I sweated, clutched our aching backs, and whined that the rows were getting longer when we weren’t looking. Nannie never complained which added to our frustration. How could she be so happy about this? Why wasn’t she tired of it? How did she stay so happy about a chore that seemed never-ending?

We asked her just that.

“Well.” Nannie began. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

Oh. And with that she effortlessly picked up two full buckets and headed back to the house, happily humming all the while.

I wrapped up the story for my friend by saying that while Jan and I did continue to pray for an early frost, we put Nannie’s advice to use for the duration of the season. Our muscles stayed sore and our backs still cramped, but admittedly the burden seemed lighter by looking at how far we’d come and not how far we had yet to go. I thought my friend might apply that notion to his packing and school work, or to any effort really.

He didn’t get it.

He politely thanked me for yet another Nannie-ism and grumbled that he had to rush home to the hassle of more packing and to finish a paper for his graduate class. I assumed that was the last I’d see of him for a while knowing his workload. However, I happened to pass him on the street just a week or so later. I prepared to hear the negative update on the packing and schoolwork, instead he was all smiles.

I didn’t get it.

He casually mentioned the packing he had left to do and although he’d finished the paper for school, he now had one more to complete. Still he continued to smile. I couldn’t help but ask about his new attitude.

“You still have plenty going on but it’s not getting you down as much?” I asked.

I was then afraid I’d given him a reason to sink back into the negativity of all he had yet to finish. I tried to clarify by saying I understood how stressful it was to have multiple things to accomplish and how understandable it was to feel bogged down at times. Knowing he had so much to get done I was happy to see he wasn’t overwhelmed by all he had left to do, which showed in his attitude.

“Well.” he grinned. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

He got it.

Stuart M. Perkins


Filed under Family, garden, grandmother

373 responses to “Long Row

  1. Reblogged this on Faith.Hope.Love and commented:
    “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

    Great story with a great perspective!

  2. Kathy Keefe

    What an enjoyable story and lesson to remember!

  3. Thank you for the follow. Look forward to your posts!

  4. My grandmother would approve! xxx

  5. Wonderful story! And, thanks for following.

  6. Reblogged this on Learning To Eat and commented:
    Just the sentiment I need right now, and all wrapped up in an enchanting story. Brilliant.

  7. This would be great to read aloud or to use as a base for oral storytelling. I hope that you have a Book of Nannie.

  8. Reblogged this on Finding Myself Through Writing and commented:
    Wonderful advice from a fellow blogger from days gone by. “Well.” Nannie began. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.” Love this! ~Elle

  9. Some great elder wisdom. Thanks for keeping stories like this moving down to the next generation.

  10. funny to hear how fast tomatoes grow – wherever you were – in England we are so proud to get half a bucketful, after nurturing them in a greenhouse and carefully watering and feeding them – smile

    • Hi! I was, and still am, in Virginia where tomatoes seem to grow overnight during the summer! Thanks for your comment!

    • riverwaters

      That’s to funny. Tomatoes growING slowly in England. My father used to grow tomatoes in FL and l they grew tall. But he add nitrogen to the soil.

      You should try growing tomatoes with a high Brix value. You can easily find an explanation on the Internet. You want to look for International Ag Labs and Dr Carey Reams.


      • thanks, but no thanks – we do things slowly here – smile – and the seeds we get are adapted for our climate!

      • riverwaters

        I wasn’t clear 😞. Using lots of nitrogen was not the high Brix value way of growing tomatoes.

        Brix is a way of measuring the natural sugar content in the vegetable or fruit after using an inexpensive handheld refractometer. The cost about $30-50.

        The more sugar the better in fruits and vegetables. 🍬 (In the United States the higher the Brix the more growers can charge for their produce.)

        It is a simple way of testing the quality of the produce. It’s almost counter intuitive with all the “no sugar” talk these days. 🍰 But in produce,🍈🍏🍋🍊🍑🍒🍓🍍 the higher the fruit measures on the Brix scale the more taste and more nutrition the fruit has. 😃 With produce, the two go together. 👫

        The whole idea behind Brix is the better the quality of the soil, the better the quality of the tomatoes. 🍅🍅🍅🍅

      • love your little tomatoes – smile – OK you have convinced me to take a look at this system, but as all I grow area a few plants every other year – it won’t make a lot of difference to me – maybe someone else will see your info – smile

      • riverwaters

        You may find that you get delicious tomatoes 🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅 (a good comic knows when to milk a winner 😉) !

  11. Your writing is exceptional

  12. Fantastic story and fantastic lesson. Very, very true. Something I try to teach. Keep it up; love this! Best, Koko 🙂

  13. A very good story. I like your writing style and it so easy to read.

  14. The Local Yodeler

    Well written, and what a great lesson to share. Thanks for sharing.

  15. lemerylogan

    Reblogged this on Logan Lemery Origin Story and commented:
    Wow. Before I read this I would look at my measly 5000 words and groan. Knowing I had to write 7000 more to get to what I think is the perfect length for a short story. I feel accomplished and revigored. I write 5000 good quality words in less then a week. A week where I casually wrote when I wrote whenever my browser was loading or during a commercial break. I wish I read this years ago when first tried writing books but would get flustered after 60 pages.

  16. Beautiful story & more beautiful lesson 🙂

  17. Reblogged this on pastorwardclinton and commented:
    When you are up to your armpits in alligators it can be mighty hard to remember your original assignment was to empty the swamp. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

  18. Worthwhile lesson wrapped in a good story. I received a following from you today. Good, that marked the path for my finding you. I’m following back.

  19. Hi thanks for following me, I’m glad to have found a friend with hope in his stories! Now I want to read more nanny stories! 🙂

  20. Wonderful! I love Nannie stories! She sounds a lot like my Grammie! I’ve never used WP reblog before but I believe this will be my first!! Well done!

  21. Reblogged this on Just Bits and Pieces and commented:
    This story reminds me of summer with my Grammie! The lesson is fantastic! One I will try to remember and live by from here on out!

  22. Quaint. And very much carried the feeling of a fable. I liked it a lot. Would be a great piece for children.

  23. I got it too 🙂
    I love each one of your stories.. although I am from a different part of the world and have had a very different life , so to say, the similarities aren’t few.. one is lucky if gets to catch the those words of wisdom often dripping from elder ones. Needless to say, Nannie was right 🙂

  24. A wonderful lesson. I remember picking tomatoes from my parents’ garden when I was a teen. They were wonderful to eat – right off the vine or canned in tomato sauce for spaghetti – but not so much fun when gathering them up from the garden. Glad your friend got the message. 😉

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  25. I enjoyed reading your story about your lovely grandmother. Looking forward to reading some more. Thanks for visiting my blog:)

  26. This came to me at just the right time. I move in 8 days and I’ve come so far.

  27. Reblogged this on heartpeace and commented:
    Nicely done Stuart! Timely word…I needed this! Struggling to keep “what’s been accomplished” in focus, by I’m trying. God Bless!

  28. I’m with Granny! If we don’t encourage ourselves in our own accomplishments, we may just have to wait a while to get any encouragement at all…Really enjoyed this. And hey, thanks for coming on over to my site. It’s greatly appreciated.

  29. You write so beautifully, I wish I can write like this

  30. Very well written, thank you!

  31. I am Sorry I have to borrow your words (May I ? 🙂 ) – ‘ I love how we are from different places but some core values are still the same.’

    Thank you for taking the time,
    Needless to say it’s a pleasant surprise to me.
    Look forward to enriching, enlightening storyshucking :).


  32. Pula Metsing

    Reblogged this on Ai Kant Spal Kwit and commented:
    Look back, see how far you have come. If I see how the Lord had shaped me, how different I am from the man who was saved on February 10, 1985, I can get hope for the future. Then, after my NDE about a decade later, I returned entirely changed, with a most prominent sense of purpose, calling and cobsummate obedience.

    I do not recognise the me of 1985. Yes, there is a long way to go but the growth over thirty years encourages me to keep at it for the next thirty or forty, God willing.

  33. Pingback: May Notes | Eggplant & Olive

  34. I really needed to read this today.

  35. Thank you for this very encouraging story!

  36. rudyhou

    a great lesson. one i shall keep in mind for the future.

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