A Parable of Purpose
Cephas Jackson was deep in South Georgia, driving down Hopeful Road near Chason Crossing. He had been to look at an antique tractor, thinking he might enjoy having one to tinker with, hoping he would get asked to put it in the Christmas Parade. The tractor was a bit overpriced in his opinion. He left it there and began the two-hour drive back home. “Another wasted day,” said Cephas aloud, although he was alone in the truck.
A lot of Cephas’ days seemed wasted since his retirement. He didn’t miss work, but he missed having something to do. He missed the routine of having a place where he was supposed to be.
Cephas saw a homemade sign just off the right-of-way. All he could read was a big letter C and a large dollar mark. He figured it must be someone asking for a handout. He didn’t know if the need was real or not, so he planned to drive on by, hoping they wouldn’t approach him at the four-way stop.
When Cephas got closer he saw that the scribbled C wasn’t for Cash. “Collards – $1,” it read, a message that caught Cephas by surprise.
The old man had the sign propped against his rusted truck, a truck that held a generous supply of collards. He sat in a lawn chair that needed new straps. He, the chair, and the truck seemed quite comfortable under a massive oak tree, a tree Cephas knew was much older than the man.
Cephas thought he might enjoy some fresh collards, and a dollar seemed like a bargain. “Good morning,” he mumbled to the old man.
“It sure is a good morning,” replied the old man with a giant smile. “I’ve got my health and a truck load of collards! That’s a good morning to me.”
Cephas thought it was a bit of a stretch to be so happy about just two things, especially since one of those things was collards. The old man’s smile, however, was infectious. Cephas could not help but smile back.
“I can understand being happy about your health,” said Cephas. “But at a dollar a head, seems like you wouldn’t be that happy about these collards.”
The old man took another lawn chair off the back of his truck and placed it near his own. “If you got a minute to spare, Mister, I’ll tell you about these collards.”
Cephas sat down, partly from curiosity, partly from having nowhere else he had to be. The old man told how he had been doing this for over a decade. He had retired from his work, then his wife had died. Their three children lived too far away to visit often.
“These collards,” said the old man, “give me a reason to get up every morning. I plant them, then keep them watered and free of weeds. I bring them out here and make a little spending money.”
“Seems like you could raise the price and make a few more dollars,” said Cephas.
“I probably could,” said the old man, “but I ain’t here for the money. I like having the folks stop by. Sometimes I get lucky and another old man will sit in that same chair you’re in. We’ll visit for a while. He’ll leave with my collards, and I’ll stay here with his dollar. Most of the time we both feel a bit richer that day.”
Cephas folded a twenty-dollar bill so the old man wouldn’t know he was due any change. He took a bundle of collards, shook hands with the fellow and drove away. On the way home, he planned his collard patch. And he thought about growing pumpkins for the fall and gourds to make houses for martins. Cephas’ mind was overflowing with possibilities. It was a feeling that he knew was worth way more than the twenty dollars he had left behind.
Cephas envisioned a small stand under the big oak in his own yard. He would open it when the weather was nice, and would price everything at just a dollar. He’d have an extra chair or two and maybe a checker board. He knew that an old man might stop by on occasion, a man who had more time than plans, a man who had no particular place that he needed to be. “This sure has been a good day,” said Cephas aloud, although he was alone in his truck. “This has been a really good day.”