Inspired to Accept a Friendly Compromise

A friend, who refused to take no for an answer, wins one last genial debate from beyond.

- Posted on Apr 23, 2012

John D. Johnson, rake in hand

Thanks, Jerry!” Jay called from his front door. I waved to him from the forsythia bush I was clipping. No thanks necessary, I thought.

My friend Jay W. Steele had always taken excellent care of his property—until his osteoporosis made it impossible. Now that spring had arrived here in east Tennessee, his yard was looking rougher than ever. The grass had reached ankle-length, and weeds were choking out his flower beds.

That wouldn’t do. So, I’d gone over unannounced one afternoon and got to work.

By dusk the yard was back in shape. As I was loading my tools into my truck, Jay walked up and held out two bills—a 50 and a 10.

“Jay, I didn’t do this to get paid!” I said.

“You know me,” Jay replied. “I repay kindness.”

It was true—Jay never forgot to acknowledge favors. He would pay for gas if you drove him to the doctor, and if you brought food over to the house, you’d always receive a special gift as a token of appreciation when you least expected it.

But I did this yard work out of friendship. It didn’t feel right to take money for it.

“Really, Jay. I can’t take it!”

“Okay,” Jay said. But the second I turned away he shoved the bills in my shirt pocket.

“Whoa!” I laughed, fishing it out. “We’ll make a friendly compromise,” I said. “How about just the ten?”

Jay finally relented. That time. Once a week, I stopped by his place to spruce up the yard. We must have sounded like a broken record to his neighbors, always going back and forth about the payment until Jay agreed to give me only ten dollars.

“It’s enough to cover the gas for my truck and the lawn mower,” I said one Saturday when Jay was being particularly stubborn.

“I guess we can call it even, then,” he agreed. Finally! I thought.

Tending Jay’s yard was a lot easier after he agreed to my “price.” I enjoyed the work. Season after season, I’d tend to the plants and keep the lawn looking trim. Then, in September, just as the leaves began to fall from his maple trees, Jay went into the hospital for quadruple bypass surgery. He didn’t make it.

After the funeral, Jay’s family prepared the property to be sold. I performed my usual yard work for the last time. I mowed the lawn and ran the edger along the walkway. I raked up the autumn leaves. After I finished, I gathered my tools and loaded one after another into my truck.

As I bent over for the clippers, I noticed something tossing in the breeze on the ground. I refused to leave one leaf on my friend’s lawn. I had to laugh, thinking that for once, I wouldn’t have to accept the “friendly compromise” Jay and I had settled on. This time, my friend, you have no choice.

The breeze blew the stray leaf closer, until it came to a rest right at my feet. I reached to pick it up and leave Jay’s yard pristine, just the way he liked it. But this was no leaf. There on the ground was a faded ten-dollar bill. A thank-you, if ever there was one.

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