The Vegetable Predicament

Nancy was standing in front of the Rawleys' vegetable garden. Shorty had told her to pick what had ripened today, but the girl detective was no horticulturalist. Growing up in the Midwest had lent her a little knowledge of plants, like tomatoes being bright red meant they were ready to harvest. However, the Rawleys had weird tomatoes that turned orange and opaque at their freshest.

Whipping out her cell phone and Googling "how to harvest vegetables in the Southwest" wasn't much help either. There were a few pictures of beans and tomatoes, but Nancy didn't see anything in front of her that really matched the images.

This task was really unreasonable to her. She had come to the ranch for vacation and they were making her into a regular ranch hand. She didn't mind doing a few chores as a good houseguest, like the dishes and washing her own laundry. But how could they expect her to be good at the important tasks on a ranch when she'd never been to a ranch before and threaten to kick her out if she did them wrong? After this, she was supposed to figure out the dietary needs of three horses and chop wood for a campfire. Yeah, that's real smart of the Rawleys, Nancy thought. To trust valuable livestock to a city slicker, and make her handle an axe.

Frustrated and starting to sweat bullets in the Arizona heat, Nancy just picked her best guesses at what was ripe. When her basket was full, she started back towards the house. "It's so hot, I should get these vegetables in to Shorty right away."

Upon entering the kitchen, Shorty asked her directly, "Got those vegetables picked for me?" Nancy held the basket out confidently. "Right here," she declared.

Shorty took one look into the basket and his face was disapproving. "Oh no! You picked stuff that ain't ripe yet," he said. Nancy was embarrassed, but figured the unripened stuff would mature in the windowsill no problem, and she'd get it right next time. However, Shorty began to walk out of the kitchen saying, "Well, guess there's only one thing to do…"

The next thing Nancy knew, her luggage was packed and halfway out the door, and Bet Rawley was on the phone with her. "That garden is an important source of food for us," Bet reprimanded. "We simply can't have someone picking things willy-nilly and wasting perfectly good vegetables. I'm sorry, dear."

The young detective's mind wandered as she was chewed out. Why am I being punished for this? It's not like I ripped the plants out of the ground. Have the Rawleys never heard of a grocery store when they look for produce? And who does my chores when I'm not here? It seems that Dave just stands around in front of the chicken coop all day. He could have helped me!

The name of her hometown brought Nancy's focus back to the phone, just as Bet finished the lecture. "So why don't you go back to River Heights, and just as soon as you've developed the proper respect for produce, we'll invite you back." Nancy was indignant. Proper respect? I didn't realize ranchers revered tomatoes. I don't even want to be invited back!

When they hung up, Nancy gathered her suitcases. Then she realized that the ranchers were making her exit through the door leading to the porch under construction. Did the Rawleys want her to fall and get hurt for her mistake? "How am I supposed to get down?" she wondered.