WFOL 2024 Challenge
A LATE HARVEST
Zach and Geoffrey took turns playing hacky-sack as they waited in the Tunnels underneath Stan Kaczmarek’s Juniper Street building to escort some Helpers Below to the Tunnel community’s beloved Winterfest celebration. This year, George Robinson, his wife Shirley, and their adult son Thaddeus would be coming to the party from a new location – their second grocery store, which had enjoyed an outstandingly successful opening earlier that year in July.
“Aw, shoot!” Zach exclaimed when he miscalculated his latest tap and sent the small sand-filled bag flying out of his reach. “Your turn.”
“Thanks,” Geoffrey replied, as he ran to gather up Zach’s miss. “I wonder why Mr. Robinson and his family asked for extra help getting to the Tunnels?”
Zach shrugged. “Don’t know. My guess is they’re probably bringing some last-minute donations for William.”
“Yeah,” Geoffrey agreed. “But isn’t Winterfest supposed to be a thank you for our Helpers? I know William tries to organize our supplies so we don’t have to call on Helpers for extra food and stuff for their own party.”
“That’s right, Geoffrey,” George Robinson called out from the secret door leading into the supply closet of his new grocery store. “We do have some extra donations this year, but they aren’t for Winterfest. Come see!”
Geoffrey quickly pocketed the hacky-sack ball, and the two boys eagerly followed Mr. Robinson through the supply closet and into the large freight warehouse for the grocery store.
“Welcome, boys!” Shirley Robinson called. “Thaddeus will be down shortly with the last basket.”
The boys gaped in surprise as Mrs. Robinson pointed to four bushel-baskets full of late winter vegetables she and her family had picked just that morning from the building’s rooftop garden.
“Are you kidding me?” Zach exclaimed. “I didn’t think there’d be any more vegetables after that early frost.”
“We didn’t either,” Thaddeus called, as he brought in a fifth bushel basket full of winter squash. “But Mr. Kaczmarek told us about the frost forecast, and we were able to cover the winter garden section with plastic just in time to save this late harvest.”
Geoffrey ran over to the corner and pulled out the handcart they had been regularly using since July to bring down fresh vegetables harvested from the rooftop garden to help enrich the meals William prepared for the Tunnel community, and the five quickly loaded the bushel baskets onto the cart for transport Below.
“Zach, why don’t you lead the way, and Geoffrey and I can take the first shift pushing the cart,” Thaddeus suggested.
“My dear,” George murmured to Shirley, gallantly extending his arm to escort his beloved wife of thirty-two years. “May I lead you Below?”
“You certainly may, my good Sir,” Shirley replied, beaming at him.
* * *
“George! Shirley! And Thaddeus!” William called as Zach and Geoffrey’s party arrived at the Tunnel kitchens. “My goodness! I wondered why you’d asked for an early escort to Winterfest. What have we here?”
Shirley gave William a big smacking kiss on the cheek along with an enthusiastic hug and pat on the back. “We thought you might like to enjoy a portion of our good fortune. Stan warned us about the frost forecast two months ago, and we were able to save all the plants in the winter garden.
We picked the last of it today and brought you one bushel of each vegetable. The rest will go to the dining hall in Stan’s building and our produce counter in the grocery store.”
Thaddeus and Zach began unloading the baskets of vegetables. “We have beets, winter squash, collard greens, turnips, and cabbage,” Thaddeus noted.
“And I know just where to put them,” William responded. “Zach, why don’t you put the baskets of beets and turnips back on the cart and take them down to the first root cellar. Geoffrey, go get Eric and Samantha to help you put the rest over in the cooling room where we stored the lettuces this Summer.”
The boys hurried off to carry out their tasks, while William invited the Robinson family to sit at the counter and rest for a moment after their long walk, passing them large mugs of tea.
“You got here just in time,” William stated. “I was about to take my last tins of cookies down to the Great Hall and finish setting up. When the boys get back from their errand, they’ll take you to the grand staircase. I’ll see you at the main door for the opening.”
* * *
The festivities in the Great Hall were well underway when George, Shirley, and Thaddeus at last had a chance to speak with Vincent and Catherine.
“My goodness!” Shirley exclaimed. “You two are positively glowing with newlywed happiness.”
Catherine hugged Shirley, blushing. “Thank you, Shirley! It’s so good to see you again.”
Vincent shook George’s hand. “We are indeed very happy. Thank you again for helping William with the food for our reception here in the Great Hall.”
“Think nothing of it,” George replied. “We were honored to help with your wedding. Something we long hoped for.”
“Dad,” Thaddeus interjected. “Look over there. Isn’t that Ms. Corrales with Kipper and Stan?”
“It certainly is,” Vincent replied. “Ms. Corrales – Luz – is being welcomed this evening as a new Helper.”
“Oh, we must go thank them both,” George urged. “Stan was so kind to offer us the space in his building for our second grocery location, and Ms. Corrales got all of our plans expedited by the New York City Planning Commission. Excuse us, please, Vincent, Catherine. It’s wonderful to see you two looking so happy.”
As George hurried his wife and son over to greet Stan and Luz, Vincent murmured in his wife’s ear, “Father does have a knack for matching the right Helper with the right opportunity.”
“He does indeed,” Catherine agreed. “William told me that the Robinsons brought down five more bushels of late winter vegetables for his root cellar and cooling room. That rooftop garden idea has been even more wildly successful than I ever imagined.”
“Your garden too, My Love,” Vincent purred. “Stan’s warning helped save your winter plants at the Hobart Street rooftop.”
“You mean OUR garden, My Own,” she replied. “We’ll have to check it tomorrow morning. Who knows? We may have a late harvest to share as well.”