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The seed money buried in the backyard was a family legend.
This idea was put into my Grandma Wanda Jo’s head by this televangelist named Jeremiah Thompson Blatt, who was known as Jerry. When we would visit her, she would take us home from whatever fun activity we were doing at 4:00 every Wednesday to watch Jerry. Was there a reading of your favorite book at the library? Sorry, Jerry’s going to be on in a few minutes. Were the lions being fed at the zoo? Too bad, Jerry’s going to be on before this is done. Was there an ambulance in our lane and we were supposed to pull over? Who cares about them, we’re not missing Jerry!
At some point when I was a fairly little kid, Uncle Martin asked Wanda Jo how much she had given to Jerry over the years. Wanda Jo happily told my uncle she had kept every single letter that Jerry ever sent her, and kept them in a file cabinet in her office. We went to go investigate, and discovered an overstuffed mess full of envelopes, weird oils, and little pieces of fabric. Everyone who witnessed this disaster zone of a drawer went silent. Constance, Julia, Natty and I all looked at each other, and then we simultaneously looked up at Uncle Martin, who had gone very red in the face and was breathing rather heavily through his nose.
Fishing a wad of bills out of his pocket, he told us in a forced, calm voice, “Kids, why don’t you go buy lunch somewhere.” It wasn’t a request, and we hustled out of there.
Constance took charge and decided that we were going to the park, and on the way we stopped at the convenience store and bought slushies. Uncle Martin spent the afternoon methodically poring over the envelopes, trying to determine how much money Wanda Jo had sent to Jerry.
During dinner, we were all silent. My parents were back from Ikea, and had evidently been informed about the file drawer. It was silent for a good minute, and then Uncle Martin cleared his throat.
“So Mom, I totaled up the amount that you’ve sent to Jerry,” he said to her in an odd voice. “First of all, how long has this been happening?”
Wanda Jo stopped cutting up her pot roast and happily laced her fingers together. “Oh, I don’t know, we must be going on ten years now.”
An odd kind of strangled sound escaped from my dad’s throat, and he unsuccessfully tried to pass it off as a cough.
Uncle Martin paused for a moment, clearly figuring something out in his head. “Well,” he started slowly, “that means that every month for the last ten years, you’ve sent Jerry about $1100.”
As Wanda Jo defended herself, I tried to figure out what that meant. I was still a bit too young to be able to multiply numbers that big, but Constance was there and started to resemble a fish as she watched the argument with her mouth hanging open.
In the end, it was decided that Wanda Jo’s relationship with her televangelist was to be rearranged. She would still be allowed to watch Jerry, but her habit of sending him money would have to end. She spent the next few days muttering under her breath about how she would be going to hell, and how the rest of us would be coming with her.
One afternoon, a couple weeks after the intervention, when our parents were out shopping, she asked all the kids to come into the living room. We lowered ourselves onto her chintzy sofa that reeked of mothballs and she sat down across from us.
“Children, my relationship with Jerry has been altered, so that I can only see him from afar.” My Grandma was a rather dramatic woman. “Your parents do not believe in the gospel that Jerry preaches, and there is nothing I can do to help them now. However, there is still hope for you.” From under the chair she was sitting on, she pulled out two plastic bags filled with wads and wads of cash. “This is seed money. You plant this, and then reap the rewards.” She handed the heavy bags to me and Constance. “Now, I don’t want you to tell your parents, because then God will not accept the seed money and it will be infertile.” She shooed us to go hide it in our sleeping bags.
When we got home, Natty and I spent a long time pondering the plastic bag filled with the seed money. We put it on his bed and just stared at it for a while.
Finally, I said, “I think that you gotta plant it really deep.”
Natty looked at me. “Why’s that?”
Exasperated, I said, “Well, it’s gotta be a pretty big harvest, so it needs enough room to grow underground.” Clearly, I understood how plants work.
Natty considered this for a moment with his brow furrowed, then agreed that it made sense.
The next time our parents weren’t home, we went into the backyard and buried it a couple feet into the ground. And then we forgot about it.
Around seven years later, the March of my freshman year in high school, I was sitting at the kitchen counter, doing my homework, when the phone rang. My dad got up and answered it.
“Hello?...Hey, Mom...Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s wrong?...Oh my God…”
We googled what happened. Jerry hosted a live show, and on that Wednesday, he was ranting in front of the audience.
“I know that God loves me, I know that he loves me because I’ve sacrificed so much for him! If God didn’t love me, he would strike me down right here and now!”
Apparently, God has a sense of humor, because Jerry collapsed and died of a massive heart attack, right there, on live TV.
Wanda Jo was, of course, inconsolable.
“I...should...have...done...more!” She was absolutely sobbing into the phone. We had put her on speaker, and her wails were echoing around the kitchen. It was kind of creepy.
By the end of the conversation twenty minutes later, my dad was really fed up. He could handle her crying for a few minutes, but he got understandably angry when she told him that arrangements would be made so that she could go to Jerry’s funeral in Good Hope, Alabama, at his $12 million dollar estate that was gifted upon Jerry by God. As we learned, Good Hope is 45 miles outside of Birmingham, which meant that Wanda Jo, who thought airport water fountains contained a chemical that let the government control your mind, would be flying on a plane for the first time in 31 years. Her devotion to a dead man was truly spectacular.
My dad hung up and stormed out of the room when she mentioned that a painting of Jerry was being commissioned, and would hang next to her television. I continued doing my Spanish vocabulary until dinner.
As I was lying in bed, Natty came into my room.
“Hey,” I told him. “What do you want?”
He leaned against my door. “Do you remember that seed money we planted in the yard?”
It had been so long since I had thought about it. Apparently, we weren’t supposed to actually plant it, but send that money to Jerry, and then harvest the reward.
“Well, I talked to Constance, and she said that there was like five-hundred dollars in that bag.”
When I actually considered how heavy that bag was, it wasn’t that hard to believe. “How did Constance know?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “She said that she opened it like a week after we got it, and bought, like, a camera or something with it.”
That wasn’t hard to imagine, knowing my cousin. “So what do you wanna do?”
His eyes lit up. “I want to go get it.”
I stared at him in bewilderment. “How are you gonna do that?”
“We are going to go dig it up in the backyard.”
“Do you know where it is?”
“I have a general idea.”
I took a deep breath. “So, just to clarify, you want to go dig up a bag of money in the backyard, not knowing where it is.”
He stopped, considering what I’d said. “Yeah, pretty much.”
For some odd reason, I agreed to this. Maybe it’s just that I was bored. Or maybe it was that Natty told me that I can have half the money.
Anyhow, at 11:00 that night, we climbed out of Natty’s window onto the trellis in the backyard and jumped down. Natty had hidden a couple shovels behind the garage earlier in the day, so we retrieve them, then go to the tree.
Natty poked around for a couple minutes, then picks a spot.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Kinda,” he said, and we start to dig.
About ten minutes in, we realized that one of two things happened. Either we buried way deeper than we thought, or Natty had picked the wrong spot. I tended to think it was the second.
So we picked another spot, and dug. Again, nothing.
We decided to pick one more, and if we found nothing, go back inside.
About four feet into the ground, Natty hit something with a shovel, and we stopped. We cast our shovels aside, and clawed out the bag of money. It wasn’t in great condition, and there were little holes in the bag, but for the most part it seemed to be in good shape.
I climbed out of the hole, and Natty picks it up, grunting.
“Whoa,” he muttered. “This thing has to weigh like fifteen pounds.” He handed it up to me, and I lost my balance as I struggled to remain upright. In doing this, I kicked my shovel into the hole. Time seemed to slow down as I watched the point make contact with my brother’s foot.
Natty screamed out an obscenity, and the lights in my parents bedroom went on.
“Aww, crap,” I muttered. As quickly as I could, I helped Natty out of the hole, and we dove into the bushes by the fence as the sliding glass door opened. My Mom was standing there in her plaid bathrobe, holding a shotgun.
Next to me, Natty muttered, “What the hell?” He looked at me and I shrugged. Neither of us knew our parents even owned a gun. She walked out into the backyard in her slippers, looking around suspiciously as she made her way over to the holes.
Suddenly, Natty looked to me, alarmed. “Did you get the money?”
I shook my head. “I think I dropped it back in the hole!” I hissed. We both looked back at our mother, who had jumped into the hole and lifted up the bag of money, the shotgun lying on the ground next to her. She studied it with wide eyes. Then she climbed out of the hole, taking the money with her.
“Go, go, go,” Natty whispered, and we flew over to the trellis, scaling it as fast as we could as it creaked under our weight. Natty left his window open, and he awkwardly climbed in.
I tried to pull myself through, but I slipped, and my legs were left dangling through his window.
“I see you, Wendy!” My mom’s voice carries up to me. I managed to wriggle through the window, then looked back. My mom stood there, her shotgun in her hands and a scary mad look on her face. “Living room. Now.”
Inside, we’re seated on the couch as Mom paced in front of us. Dad wandered downstairs, and a crease appeared in between his eyebrows as his eyes drifted from the bag of money on the coffee table, to his children perched on the couch, guilty looks on their faces, to his wife, who stood wild eyed with a shotgun in her hands. He finally made the intelligent comment of “...What…”
Mom’s nostrils flared. “After we heard Natty swearing, I grabbed my gun--”
He seemed to notice the firearm for the first time. “Whoa, Carol, what the--”
“I found three holes in the backyard, each at least four feet deep, a bag of money in one of them, and your children climbing through the window!” she finishes hysterically. Whenever my Mom is really mad at us, she is no longer Mrs. Rowling, who loves her children, but Carol, who is childless.
Natty poked me, and when I looked I look over, mouths, Four feet deep?!? He seemed rather impressed, and I look away, disgusted.
It took a while, but eventually, we explained it all. Constance must have bought one nice camera, because there was not five hundred dollars in that bag, but five thousand. That, or Wanda Jo just loved us more.
My parents and her other adult relatives decided Wanda Jo would not be allowed to attend Jerry’s funeral without a chaperone. She couldn’t be trusted any more. Martin went and told us it was “the biggest crackpot convention you’ve ever seen.” The service involved a performance by the Alabama State University choir (Jerry’s alma mater), speeches by a couple of Jerry’s multi-millionaire golfing buddies, and, for the grand finale, a fireworks display to honor the lord that reportedly cost upwards of three million dollars, as reported by People magazine.
The seed money was used not to fund Jerry’s campaign for God, but was instead used to start the Wanda Jo Rowling Seed Program, (along with some extra money donated by other family members) which provided small loans to people all around the world to start their businesses. She found it hard to be mad at us, since we had started a charity in her name. And we had used the money to plant seeds, just not quite in the way she intended.
All of the letters in the drawer from Jerry, along with the oils and scraps of cloth, were dumped into the hole that held the money, and Natty and I filled in all the holes. The drawer was renovated to instead store the letters of gratitude Wanda Jo received from the small business owners whose lives were changed by the seed money.
Still, my Grandmother insisted that a small sign be put in the spot where the bag of money was buried. She goes out there to pray when she visits.
Call it a coincidence, but that little patch of grass where the seed money memorial resides looks a little greener than the others.