Life and Times of Billy Ryman: Chapter 2
CHAPTER TWO: THE FARM
Unfortunately, Sarah was terrible at farming. Her heart wasn’t in the field, but in the home. She was an old-fashioned kind of gal, and that created some tension between her and her husband. Billy was more forward-thinking, especially for a shepherd-turned-fisherman-
come-farmer, but eventually he realized two things. First, it was less work for him to sow the fields by himself than it was to argue with Sarah about helping; and second, sowing the fields by himself also meant he didn’t get in trouble for coming in at the end of the day and expecting Sarah to make dinner while he watched SportsCenter.
Gradually , the happy couple fell into a rhythm of hard work and pleasant nights. Billy would get up every morning and sow his seed. Some would fall into good soil, and some would fall along the tough ground. Birds ate all the seed that didn’t fall into good earth, and the seed that went in deeply to shallow ground jumped up quickly but also died quickly. And there always seemed to be thorns growing in that field, no matter how often Billy cleared them away.
Farming was hard work.
But when the harvest came, Billy saw the rewards of his hard work. Miraculous rewards, even. You might even call them blessings. The good seed that fell into good earth sprang up thirty times—no, sixty times, no, a hundred times—better than Billy could have ever hoped, and he made a killing when he sold the grain.
Billy reinvested his profits back into the farm, hiring a few helpers. Then he watched the whole thing happen all over again. Year after year. Billy would get up and scatter seed, and though he never understood how, the soil produced grain all by itself—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel of grain. Some seed got wasted and some seed died, but the seeds that grew were more than enough for Billy’s needs.
After a few years of great success, Billy thought back to his beginnings as a shepherd and a fisherman. He wanted to always have a reminder of where he started, and so he made a trip to the mint. There he purchased ten coins to represent each month of hard work that led him to his present good fortune. He placed the coins in a display case and looked at them often, remembering those stinky and smelly ten months.
Billy also took to planting mustard. Mustard is a curious plant, starting out as microscopic seeds and growing to be one of the world’s largest plants. The mustard trees were his pride and joy, growing almost as tall as cedar trees. Even the small ones were the size of patio umbrellas, and all manner of birds came to nest in their branches, singing and making music for the farm.
Life was good, and Billy and Sarah were happy, wealthy, and well. They were starting to think about having children, as well as considering what they might do with their newfound wealth, beyond blowing it all on their soon-and-coming kids.
Life was about as idyllic as could be.
Except for one small problem. Billy had a fig tree that wouldn’t bloom. In a sense, that tree was a portent of much worse things to come. And much better. It was the first thing that didn’t work out the way Billy had hoped. He rightly knew it wouldn’t be the last.
“Cut that useless twig down please, George,” said Billy one day to his largest, and most trusted, employee. George had come over from England a few years back, a weathered soul, rough around the edges, but full of brawn and no stranger to hard work. One look at the burly man confirmed it—his nose was scarred and permanently crooked from a kick in the face he had received from an unhappy donkey, and his hair would never grow as thickly again, after the barn fire where he lost his hair and most of the skin on his head. And the unfortunate kicking donkey, who he had been unable to save. He had a rough time transitioning to life as an American. That is, until he responded to Billy’s ad on Craigslist. Then George began working in ways he liked on things he understood. George was amazing with crops and seeds. He always greeted Billy at the door and kept all the lamps in the house burning, a good employee always looking after his boss.
“Just a moment there, Guv,” said George, being English. “I think this blighter’s got a wee bit o’ life yet. Give us a year, then we’ll see. If she’s got no bits in a year, then we chop her down.” George pronounced that last word like it had two o’s, chawp ‘er doon.
They talk like that across the pond.
“Right then, Georgie,” said Billy, trying hard to sound British, but remaining clearly American in the way all Americans tend to do. “Yee’ve got yer year. Shinny on!” Billy didn’t really know what that meant, and neither did George, but it still had the desired effect, which was that Billy got to feel like he could relate and George didn’t cut down the tree.
Later that night, as Billy came back from a trip into town and George greeted him at the door with a firm handshake and a stiff drink, Billy explained to Sarah how grateful he was for the friendship of the man. “He’s a keeper,” Billy began. “I’m awfully glad we’ve got him.”
“Me too, love,” Sarah agreed, “but he’s not the only help we’ve got, and we’re likely to need more.”
“Yes. I’ve been thinking about some more land. I want to build.”
“That’s good. We can’t do everything we’d like to do here. This house is small and too many additions will make it look unnatural.”
“Sorry, dear?” Billy asked, only half-listening. His mind was on the prospects of buying more land. If we add just a little more land, we could really expand our farm, he thought.
 “No one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on a new garment, Billy. The new makes the old look worse. And there’s going to be lots that’s new.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Billy, still only half-listening.
“We need someplace to put a few additions.”
“I was thinking of vineyards,” he said absentmindedly. “Neighbors on the southwest have vineyards—the Soures family. Maybe they’ll sell.”
“Vineyards are good. But you can’t put new wine into old wineskins either.”
“No,” said Billy, “of course not.” Billy paused then, and realized Sarah was grinning like a fool—a beaming, glowing, radiant fool. “What are you on about, then, woman? New cloth and new wine? Next thing you’ll tell me you’ve got a new bun in the old oven.” Billy chuckled softly to himself, but that was when Sarah burst out of her chair to hug him.
“We do!” she said, and they laughed and cried and woke everyone up to share in their great celebration. All night long they sang and clapped and told great stories about their own childhoods with George and with Mae (the housekeeper Sarah had hired, who was also—secretly—a nanny and a certified doula) and with Claude and Janette, the elderly pair who managed the farm vehicles and fed the chickens.
“Now you muzt remember,” began Janette, “zat zis new ‘ome you build iz a zymbol of your new famillee.” She threw her arms open wide to include the whole house and then clasped them over her heart on the word “family.”
“Mais oui!” Claude intoned. “It must be a spectacle, a home everyone will want to visit when they come pour le bebe.”
“I was thinking of the plot next door,” said Billy.
“On the west? With the ravine?” asked George.
“No!” said Sarah. “It must be the land to the north. No one lives there, and it has that wonderful hill. This place should be easy to see.”
“The light of the world,” said Claude.
“I like the ravine …” said Billy, but no one was listening to him.
“You put ze lamps on ze stands,” said Janette, beaming, “and zen zey gives light to the ‘ole ‘ouse.” She lifted her arms in the air exultantly. There were nods and murmurs of agreement across the room. Janette was a tiny woman, but she spoke with such enormous emotion, everyone found themselves caught up in her enthusiasm.
“But,” Billy began, “not everything needs to be on display…”
“You’re absolutely right, love,” said Sarah, “but neither are some things meant to be concealed.”
“The foundation’s good, Guv,” said George, hardly helping. “Gots to have a strong foundation, dug down deep.”
“I knew a man in Montreal who tried to build his house on the Plage Doré,” said Claude.
“Zat’s French for ‘Golden Beach,’” said Janette. “Claude iz a man of ze world.”
Claude continued, nodding warmly at his elderly bride. “That house sank into the sand like corned beef dans mon estomach!”
“Poor foundation,” said George. “You’ve gots to build your house on rock, Guv. That parcel to the north has plenty of it. Your home will be a sturdy one.” And on they talked, making plans and conjuring dreams, until all their company was piled upon the furniture like moss on trees.
The sower and the seed
The seed growing secretly
The mustard seed
The barren fig tree
The good employee
The garment and the wineskins
City on a hill, lamp on a stand
Build your house on rock, not sand
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com