by Dawn De Braal
The small building behind Crawford’s Auto Repair housed a two-room apartment where Eli Matten lived in exchange for doing odd jobs for his uncle. Every day precisely at 7:15 Uncle Jeff or Aunt Caroline, brought his favorite breakfast Cream of Wheat hot cereal, sprinkled with brown sugar. Eli opened the door when he heard Aunt Caroline’s knock.
“Here you go, sugar!” said Aunt Caroline handing him the hot bowl.
Thanking his aunt, Eli set the bowl down on the kitchen table inhaling the hot steam rising from his breakfast, sighing. He said a quick prayer and started to eat. When he finished, Eli walked to his uncle's garage to begin his work day.
“Morning Eli.” Uncle Jeff was always a happy man.
“Morning Uncle Jeff. Thank you for the Cream of Wheat.” Eli put the used bowl in the sink and picked up a broom to start sweeping the shop as he did every morning. Jeff asked him if he’d like something other than Cream of Wheat for breakfast tomorrow. Eli shook his head, “no.”
Then his Uncle Jeff made a new proposal, “Eli, do you want to make some extra money today?” Eli put down the broom and trotted over to his uncle in a strange forward motion which was the way he ran.
“What do I gotta do?” asked Eli excited.
“Rototill the garden. Your Aunt Caroline has been on at me all week. I’ll start the rototiller and show you how to use it. Do you want the job?”
“Twenty bucks,” Eli replied shaking his head up and down. Uncle Jeff agreed to the twenty bucks for Eli’s sake knowing he would pay him more after the job was completed. Twenty bucks was Eli’s “go to” amount for any odd job.
When Eli finished for the day, his uncle took him out to the garden and started the rototiller. It was loud and leaped out of his hands. Eli shook his head no, stepping away from the machine. He would not use the rototiller.
“I'll still turn the garden using a shovel, ” he said simply
“Eli, it will take you hours to do this by hand, ” Uncle Jeff warned.
“Don’t care, I will do it. I want the worms.” Eli said earnestly.
“The worms?” questioned his uncle.
“Yes, I will sell them for bait. The rototiller will cut them up. No one wants broken worms.” Eli grabbed the shovel and started the daunting task of turning over the dirt in the garden. The hot sun beat down on him. Every shovel full he turned over brought up worms. Eli sifted through the dirt putting the worms in a coffee can saved from the garage.
Ed Norski, coming in to pick up his Cadillac, noticed Eli out back working, “I see you got the dummy digging your garden.” He said to Jeff.
“Hey! Don’t call him a dummy. He’s disabled, there’s a difference! He’s my nephew.”
Ed’s neck turned a bright red. “Sorry I didn’t mean nothing by it.” Ed paid his bill quickly leaving the garage.
Eli worked the rest of the day turning the dirt, picking out the worms, then raked the entire garden. When he finished, his Aunt Caroline, was thrilled. It was almost dark when she came out to the apartment with his supper. Eli preferred to eat alone. He opened the door taking his favorite meal, cheeseburgers, and chips. “Thank you, Aunt Caroline.”
“Eli you did a wonderful job on the garden, I can’t thank you enough! Uncle Jeff said you collected worms. What are you going to do with them? “
Eli pointed to the can sitting on the counter. “I’m gonna sell them and make more money.” He smiled proudly as he accepted twenty dollars from his aunt.
“You'll need to make a sign, I have some cardboard and paint in the garage, would you like me to help you with it?” Aunt Caroline asked.
“No, I can do it,” he said biting into his cheeseburger waving his aunt away. Eli had received an honorary diploma from the Calcounty School District. Aunt Caroline left him to eat his supper.
Early the next morning Jeff went to the garage to open up for the day. In the front window, there was a huge cardboard sign painted in red letters, “ELI’S WROMS 4 SAL ”
Jeff shook his head as he made the customary Cream of Wheat breakfast Eli insisted on every morning. The microwave dinged, brown sugar was added. Taking the bowl out to the apartment, Jeff admired the freshly turned garden knowing it took Eli the better part of the day to do this. He was amazed by what his nephew could do when he put his mind to things. He knocked on the apartment door. Eli answered accepting the hot Cream of Wheat.
“How much for all of your worms?” Jeff asked his nephew.
Eli put his hand to his head ciphering. “Forty bucks,” he said solidly.
Jeff was taken back. “You mean to tell me you picked that many worms?”
Eli laughed at his uncle. “No, the worms are twenty bucks. Another twenty bucks for turning the garden.”
Uncle Jeff couldn’t beat Eli’s reasoning. “You got me, Eli. After breakfast come and get your money.”
Jeff walked back to the garage taking the sign out of the front window, he pulled two crisp twenty dollar bills out of the register setting them aside for Eli. He then wrote a reminder note to slip into the cash drawer as to why the days' balance would be off. “Eli’s Wroms $40.00.”