Ray went to a garage sale in his neighborhood hoping to find a bargain on a lawn mower. His mower was all rusted. The lawn mower for sale was too high priced, but a vase caught his eye in a box marked miscellaneous. He paid 25 cents for it. On his way home he picked six marigolds from a flowerbed on a boulevard and put them in the vase.
The vase was crusted with a layer of dirt. As Ray wiped the vase clean he discovered how the vase, painted the color of an Easter lily in sunlight, or resembling the sparkling froth of a high ocean wave in full moonlight, with its gleaming transparent lacquer, radiated.
He set the vase and marigolds in the center of the kitchen table. During supper Ray's family didn't notice it right away. They were all talking at once. "The landlord didn't..The landlord's gonna..Are you stupid?...What name the neighbor called us....Who took my bike?..You moron...Who ran their car into our fence?...Shut up..."
Then the youngest, a child, became silent, her eyes transfixed on the vase. One by one the others noticed and were quiet. Then all of them were in motion. Dishes were cleared. The skillet which had soaked for four days was scrubbed clean. Crumbs were swept from the floor. A picture hanging on the wall was straightened. The overflowing trash container was emptied.
During the next day the kitchen curtains got washed. The paint on the kitchen walls was touched up. Supper was served on the best china. The meal began with everyone saying a grace together.
The following day the vase was placed in the parlor. That room suddenly seemed dingy in contrast to the kitchen. The wood floor was polished until it shone. The parlor walls were bedecked with new wallpaper.
At day's end the landlord entered the house with a scowl on his face. It lasted for a moment, then his scowl vanished. He collected part of the back rent that was overdue and did not ask for more. An hour later he returned and quietly fixed the broken plumbing.
The next time Ray walked out of the front door of the house the untidiness of the yard suddenly and vividly occurred to him. Ray raked until he found grass. He raked away three years accumulation of old leaves, then cleared away fast food wrappers, bottles and cans, a broken TV, used disposable diapers, fragments of plastic toys; and he fixed the broken fence.
Several days went by. One afternoon, laughter was in the air. The house exterior was being given a new coat of paint. The yard was filled with people of all ages--Ray’s family members and some neighbors. Some held paintbrushes, some stirred paint, some held ladders, some served lemonade and sandwiches. By day’s end the house shimmered with an alabaster hue similar to the vase.
No one could explain why, one by one, the nearby yards were brought from neglect into orderliness until the whole block was transformed. Junk cars were towed away. Gone were the torn, soiled mattresses, the broken toilet, the pile of tires.
So it went with the outside appearance of the neighboring homes; and then gradually, home interiors, room by room, as it occurred to the residents to bring things around. This happened to Ray’s entire block, and after that, improvements were witnessed block by block beyond there until the entire City was transformed.
To this day Ray keeps fresh flowers in the vase.
Written by MacCanon Brown, retold from a story she learned from her grandfather Gensman Eldon MacCanon, D.D.
© 2016 MacCanon Brown