My friend’s greenhouse is a large, plastic-covered frame of arched metal ribs forming a half cylinder and wired together in a row to give the structure stability. It’s the typical structure, one that from afar looks like a can on its side, half buried. The wind blows in hard from the ocean, and the whole affair takes a beating. The greenhouse can look a little limp after a day of strong winds, and the wires must be tensed, the plastic pulled tighter, the dirt weighting the edges of the plastic down heaped up again. First you fix what’s broken, then deal with what’s in danger of coming loose. One breezy day, my friend took stock and saw that in addition to the periodic tightening-up to be done, some small rips in the plastic had enlarged near the door in the end of the greenhouse. Rather than patch again, he decided to replace a section of the plastic, and he hauled out the extension ladder and propped it against the structure. He climbed up, while his young assistant, three years and three months old, watched from below. She was his granddaughter. “Pay attention,” he told her, though she needed no reminder. She’d been training with her grandfather most of her life.
After he’d been on the ladder for a minute or two, his small assistant began to grow impatient. “My turn!” she called up to him.
He’d almost finished and soon came down.
“My turn, my turn!”
He gave her the pliers to hold—it always helps to have a job—and told her she couldn’t climb the ladder because she might get hurt.
Indignantly, she refuted him. “I’m brave! I won’t get hurt!”
Her grandfather and I both laughed at the intrepid little girl when he told me the story. She’d been helping since she could walk. Building, planting, watering, picking, repairing, gathering, digging, cutting—she’d done it all. Chickens, rats, tractors, greenhouses, fruit trees, beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, and squash—she’d seen it all. Pliers, hoses, wrenches, hoes, hammers, shovels, gloves—she’d used them all. She hadn’t gotten hurt. It was fearlessness she’d learned. That’s not a bad beginning; a balancing measure of fearfulness she can pick up easily enough along the way. First bee sting, first rope burn, first fall, first pinched flesh or smashed nail. Then she can work on bravery.
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