Betty Lou had her own garden patch, in which she could plant anything she liked.
“Look!” she exclaimed one morning, “The bean seeds are crawling out of the ground!” The beans had made cracks in the earth and were popping through. On top of every stem was one of the beans that had been planted. Betty Lou pushed her trowel into the soft earth and brought up a tiny plant. “See, mother, see! This bean is growing a tail.”
There was a little stem with a bean on top and a tiny white root below. “The stem will keep on growing higher and higher, gathering light and air,” mother explained, “while the root will go farther and farther down into the earth searching for something to eat. The bean on top of the stem supplies the growing plant with food until the roots are strong enough to gather nourishment from the earth.
“Soon this plant will grow into a strong vine, twining around a pole, with pods growing on it. In the pods beans like the ones we planted will grow. The roots will become larger and stronger, each one having tiny mouths through which it will suck up food and water for the fast-growing plant.”
“What makes the seed grow?” asked Linda.
“It’s the life in the seed,” Harold answered.
“What is life?” mother asked.
“It’s what makes things grow,” said Linda, looking very wise.
“You have told me what life does, but you haven’t told me what life is. Only God, Who puts the life into the seeds and Who makes every living thing grow, knows what life really is.
“Here in this saucer are some beet seeds which I am going to soak in water overnight to soften their tight coverings so they will come up quickly. In this other saucer is some Grape-Nuts cereal. Betty Lou, how would you like to plant this cereal in your garden, so you could have all you want to eat?”
There was a question in Betty Lou’s eyes, but only for an instant, and then she said, “Grape-Nuts cereal won’t grow.”
“Because it is not seed.”
“That’s right. We’ll plant the seeds that are alive. Isn’t it wonderful that God has shut up a bit of life in each tiny seed—life which will spring up and grow into a plant, and bear many other seeds exactly like itself?
“Would you like to hear a story about a man who was named after a certain kind of seed?” The children looked puzzled, and mother added, “His first name was Johnny.”
“Is it Johnny Appleseed?”
“A good guess, Harold. So you’ve heard the story.”
“Yes, but I would like to hear it again,” said Harold.
Mother began: “His real name was John Chapman. When he was young he built himself a house out of stone and logs on the banks of the Ohio River, near the place where the city of Pittsburgh stands today.
“There were many apple orchards on the farms around his home, and the farmers used to send their apples to the cider mills. The apple skins and seeds were thrown away after the juice had been squeezed out. Johnny went around gathering up the seeds. He took them home and washed them. He planted some of them, and what he could not plant he laid away. It wasn’t many years until he had the best apple orchard in the country. He also had a fine nursery of young trees to supply other orchards.
“At that time thousands of people were moving west to start new homes. The journey was tiresome for there were no railroads or automobiles in those days. The trip was usually made in covered wagons pulled by oxen or horses.
“Some of the settlers were glad to stop for a day or two at Johnny’s house. He encouraged them on their way, often reading God’s promises from the Bible. When the pioneers continued their journey, he gave them provisions and apples. He gave to each guest a small bag of apple seeds, asking him to plant the seeds when he reached his home. Johnny knew that the shady apple trees would make the children happy and help their mothers forget their homesickness.
“Returning travelers who stopped at John Chapman’s home told him of the troubles the settlers were meeting. They were having a hard time to keep from starving while clearing new land and making farms. There was much sickness, and sometimes there were Indian raids. Even the apple trees that grew from the seeds he had given them were not doing well. Many of the people were homesick and discouraged. Johnny decided that he would have to go and show these pioneers how to plant the seeds and how to care for the trees.
“He left his comfortable home, giving his orchard and farm to a widow who had three children. He sewed his apple seeds into watertight bags, loaded them into two Indian canoes, and started down the river.
“For nearly forty years Johnny Appleseed traveled through the wilderness and over the plains, sometimes with his bags of apple seeds loaded on the back of a horse, but more often by foot. He carried his blanket roll, a sack of seeds and his food pouch over his shoulders. He also carried his Bible and some leaflets to give away.
“Day after day he tramped through the forest, hunting for settlers’ homes, bringing them the two kinds of seeds that he carried. Often in summer he had to wade through mud, and in winter through snows that hid the trail. The settlers’ cabins were far apart, and sometimes he would lose the trail and wander for days. He slept in hollow logs or under the open sky, with his Bible under his head.
“He learned the language of the Indians, and they welcomed him to their wigwams and gave him food and shelter. He nursed their sick children and talked to them about God, whom they called the Great Spirit.
“At every home Johnny left some of his apple seeds. He often helped the men prepare the soil and plant the seeds. He told them how to care for the trees when they came up, and how to transplant them.
“At mealtime they would draw up their rough stools to the pine-board table, and Johnny would ask God’s blessing on the food. Then, as they ate, he would give them the news and talk about the people they knew back home.
“After supper the children and older folk would listen to his stories. He would tell them about the heavenly Father Who loved them and Who was preparing a home for all who love Him.
“Then the family would make a bed for him on the floor. When the time came to leave, Johnny would hand them one of the leaflets in exchange for a few handfuls of corn meal or other food.
“Johnny had to be nurse as well as orchardist. Sometimes he would find entire families sick with chills and fever, or perhaps with the dreaded cholera. He cared for them, nursed them back to health, and cheered them with promises from the Bible. He did so many kind deeds and helped so many people that he was known and loved throughout the country. He spent his time and money trying to make other people happy.”
At the story’s end mother paused, and Linda looked up as if waiting for mother to say something. “What was the other kind of seed that John Chapman carried with him?” asked Linda.
Mother picked up her Bible. “The parable of the sower found in Matthew 13 tells us about the other seed,” she said. Before they had finished the chapter, Linda had guessed the answer. I wonder how many of you have done the same.
Excerpts from Happy Home Stories, by Ella M. Robinson, pp. 35–45.