There once was a kindly old man who lived in a big house, on a big yard in a town named after him. His yard faced a very busy road, a road that he had laid out himself a long time ago. Back then it was a quiet country lane that meandered through green farmland.
Now this street was so busy that there was hardly any room for all the cars, trucks and buses that zoomed back and forth all day and all night. The air was thick with smoke and noise. In order to make more room for more traffic the street had been widened, leaving no sidewalk for pedestrians. This made travel very dangerous, especially for the poor street children of the town, who could not drive cars. Many of them had been terribly hurt.
The old man watched this happening and it made him sad. So one day he walked down to his white picket fence and hollered to the kids, “Hey, kids! C’mon, get in my yard. It’s safe in here.” The children on this side of the road dashed through the gate. The noise of the traffic was so bad that he had to yell a few more times before those children across the street heard his voice. They were clinging to the Jersey wall and were so scared that they could not move.
The old man opened the gate wider but still the petrified children would not come. From the other side of the street things looked too dangerous, and with good reason, thought the old man. Cars and trucks continued to rush on by. So the old man called for his son, who was working out back in the garden, to come and help. As soon as his son saw the terrible situation he ran out into the middle of the road and held up his hands. “STOP!” he screamed.
There was a screeching of tires and a loud honking of horns and then a sickening thud. The traffic had come to a halt, the first time in years. The young man was lying on the ground, his body broken. Blood was everywhere.
The children ran over to him. They were crying because they knew what he had done for them. He tried to talk but he kept choking on the blood filling his throat and mouth. They leaned closer to hear him.
“Quickly, children!” he said, coughing. “Run for my father’s house. The gate is open. The yard is safe – the house is yours. But remember your brothers and sisters.” And with that he died. Just then hundreds of horns started blaring, engines revving impatiently. A siren wailed in the distance. The traffic was tired of standing still.
Sobbing, the children quickly dashed into the yard. There the old man stood with the other children, tears streaming down his face. They ran to him and he put his arms around them. They all cried together, sad because he lost his son.
After a while, the old man spoke to them. “Now, now my children. Don’t be too sad. My son died for you but he died happy, because you are all safe with me in my yard. If any of you had died in that traffic he would have been very, very sad. But now you must carry on, in his memory. There are other children to be saved. You must help them cross the street and show them this yard. If you do this, his spirit will live on in you. Meanwhile, rest awhile in the garden.” And then he went up into the house.
The children looked around and they saw how beautiful the garden was, full of bright flowers and all kinds of fruits and vegetables to eat. The old man was so kind, so cheerful and hospitable that they decided to stay. For the first time in their lives they felt safe. Safe and loved. The old man was happy that they loved him and loved his garden.
The children remembered what the son had told them before he died and right away they ran to the garden fence and began hollering for the children across the street to run for the open gate. They yelled unto their voices were ragged. Some of the street children heard them and those on this side of the street were able to come through the gate easily. A few on the other side tried to make it through the traffic towards the open gate. One or two of them made it but many more of them were struck by the speeding vehicles. Most ran back, afraid of being hit.
Eventually some of the children got tired of calling to the kids outside and began to spend more of their time on the green lawn, laughing and playing with each other, singing songs and making up poems about the young man, his father and the beautiful garden. One day, a few of them, after looking nervously at all the traffic on the other side of the fence, suggested shutting the gate. They were afraid some of the more dangerous cars or trucks might make it through and that would just ruin everything. The gate looked way too small for even a little car, much less a big truck, but the majority agreed. Just to be safe.
“But what about the other kids out there?” one of them asked.
“We been calling ’em and calling ’em and they just don’t listen. If they wanted to come in they would have. Besides, mos’ everyone on this side of the street is inside already” they said.
“But what if they’re scared? Remember, we were scared once, too. And how can they get in if the gate’s closed?”
“The big kids’ll keep callin’ and if they see ’em crossing the street they’ll hold the gate open.”
“Maybe we should go out and help them?” she asked.
“What, are you nuts! Look at that traffic, it’s busier than ever!” They were getting tired of his questions. “Dontcha see? They gotta wanna come in. We can’t make ’em. Besides, if the old man really wanted ’em he’d come down outta his house and grab ’em. Like he did with us.”
Time went by. Soon the bigger kids got tired of calling and watching and wandered away from the fence. Sometimes the gate would inch open and a shy little face would peer in. Usually the children were so busy playing with each other they didn’t notice and the new visitor would slip quietly back out. Once and awhile a kid might make it all the way in and eventually, after some time watching, might be noticed and invited to join in the games. Most of the time they just sat down and watched.
Eventually they locked the gate, to make sure that no one came in unannounced. It was important that all the children knew who was in the yard with them. Some could be allowed in, under strict supervision, but there was a simple catch; To get in, they all had to ask politely and humbly for someone to open the gate. No one should be allowed to come in on their own. This way, someone who didn’t appreciate the old man’s generosity and the son’s sacrifice couldn’t just wander in by themselves and start using the garden in the wrong way. In fact, if someone wouldn’t ask in just the right way they probably didn’t really want to be in the garden in the first pace. They were probably trouble makers and would be happier outside with all the others. Now, everyone in the yard understood the importance of proper behavior.
It had been so long since any of the children had seen the old man come down out of his house. He probably had all the kids that he wanted. After all, his garden wasn’t for just anyone.