Stone Soup Writing Activity: “Homemade Crop Duster”

Activities, Story activity  /   /  By William Rubel, Editor
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2016

Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity

This story by Vivek Maru is a moral tale. It is about personal integrity and the “right” way to live. “Homemade Crop Duster” may be a “true life” story or it may be “made up.” Most probably, like many good stories, it is a mixture of both.

Stories that have a moral often read more like lectures than works of fiction. “Homemade Crop Duster” works well as a story because Vivek doesn’t lecture. Vivek lets his characters show us how to act. We are not given a lecture about right and wrong.

Project: Personal Integrity and Family History

Vivek tells us that this is a story about Grandpa Maru, his father’s father. He says that sometimes, when he finds it difficult to follow his religion, he thinks of this story and it gives him strength.

Talk to members of your family. Find out about a time when someone in your family (a brother or sister or parent or grandparent or even a great-grandparent) made a sacrifice for an important principle.

I would proceed with this project this way: first, record the facts as if you were a reporter, getting down the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. Be sure to write down the principle that a family member was upholding. Second, take this reporter’s notebook entry and make it into the best story you can. The goal is to make your story feel like it is the truth and not read like a dry statement of facts like you might find in the newspaper. To transform your notes into an exciting story, you will have to let your imagination roam. Feel free to enlarge upon the facts, make up characters that didn’t exist, and add details and dialogue you weren’t told about to help make the story come alive.


Homemade Crop Duster

By Vivek Maru, 10, Huckleberry Hill Elementary, Brookfield, Connecticut
Illustrated by Kerry Hanlon, 13, Brookfield, Connecticut
From the November/December 1985 Issue of Stone Soup


Homemade Crop Duster Old village in India

In a country far away called India, long ago, there lived my father Hans, then eight years old. My father’s father, Grandpa Maru, was a farmer, and a good one. Grandpa was a very religious man, and that’s why my father is too. One of his many beliefs was nonviolence, and to be strict about it. This meant no fish, eggs, or meat to eat, and most of all, to never hurt or kill any human, animal, or even insect. So in the farm Grandpa never used bug spray or any other insect killer to preserve the crops. He only used natural ways.

Since his family had a very small farm of only two acres, and three children to feed, Grandpa had the oldest son, my father, work on the farm also. They lived in a village, but the farm was on the outskirts of the village, about a twenty-minute walk. In India it was a tradition to have your farm a distance away from your home. My father would have to go early in the morning, accompanied by Grandpa, to work on the farm. Most of the time my father had very merry times at the farm, watching and learning about farming. He acted older than his age. I truly think he was dedicated to agriculture. His father was also very surprised and happy about the way his son could “do it right.”

Life was going very well for my dad when he was eight. But one day just before the harvest time, a faint yell caught Grandpa’s ear. It said, “Grasshoppers! Grasshoppers! Lots of them coming this way!”

Homemade Crop Duster cow pulled carriage

At first Grandpa took it calmly, thinking it was just a youngster joking. But then his own son came running home from school saying, “Daddy, Daddy, come on! We have to save our crops! There’s a cloud of grasshoppers—you won’t believe it—and they’re heading straight for our farm!”

Then Grandpa started worrying. “Oh, my gosh! Run to the farm! Wait! We shall not use bug spray. Get as many ropes as you can and start tying them together,” he told my father.

“Yes, Daddy,” my father replied, unsure of the purpose of the ropes. By the time my father had started tying, Grandpa was off to the farm.

It was a red hot afternoon and my dad didn’t have shoes! He finished tying and Grandpa spread the two-hundred-foot rope he had made across the field. Grandpa told my dad to take one end of the rope as he took the other. “O.K., I shall do as you say,” my father said, still not knowing the purpose of the rope.

Homemade Crop Duster Using a rope

“All right, now run as fast as you can,” Grandpa told him.

“I’ll beat you across the field,” quipped my father, now getting the idea. The rope dragged along the crops, swooping up the grasshoppers and shooing them away.

At first my father sprinted and was ahead of Grandpa, but after many times, he got tired. He slowed his run to a fast jog. “I thought you said you could beat me,” challenged Grandpa. This stole my father’s honor so he speeded up to a pace that was fast, but that he could keep for a long while. For if he couldn’t move the rope fast enough it would not go under the grasshoppers and would not budge them.

But after about forty-five minutes, like any boy his age would, my father got tired. Again he slowed down. This time Grandpa was desperate. “Come on, boy, run! We’ll never get those grasshoppers out,” scolded Grandpa.

“I’m trying, Daddy, but I’m very tired,” replied my father.

“Well, try harder!”

Unfortunately this carried on for quite a while, but fortunately my father’s aunt had come to visit. This aunt was my father’s favorite. “What are you doing here, Bahen?” Grandpa asked her. In India, brother calls sister “Bahen” and sister calls brother “Bah.”

“I was told I could find you here,” replied Dad’s aunt. “I’ve brought a special lunch.”

“No time for lunch, no time,” said Grandpa as he yelled at my dad again.

Homemade Crop Duster Confronted by a woman

“You can eat while you get those grasshoppers out of here,” Dad’s aunt said, realizing what they were doing. “And goodness gracious, why on earth are you scolding that helpless child?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “The poor kid is doing better than his best and you’re still there yelling at him like an insane man!”

Grandpa paused for a brief thought. “I’m sorry, son, for my foolishness, and thank you, Bahen, for alerting me.”

From then on, father and son, while eating a delicious lunch, ran at a steady pace and still shooed the grasshoppers. After about two hours they went home, successful. The grasshopper cloud had moved ahead but they left a goodly amount of dark droppings on the ground. The homemade crop duster had indeed worked without really hurting the grasshoppers. About three quarters of the crop had been saved, and, more importantly, the droppings would fertilize an even better crop next year!”

When my father told me this tale, I was incredibly amazed by how my grandpa, now dead and surely in heaven, could have stuck to his beliefs even in the face of disaster. Grandpa’s devotion has had a tremendous effect on the Maru family’s way of living. We know sometimes it is necessary to make sacrifices in order to be true to your religion. Though there are times when I am tempted to do things I shouldn’t, I think of what my father and Grandpa did, and I can overcome my temptation.

William Rubel, Editor
About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea. Along with co-editor Gerry Mandel, I have continued to edit and publish Stone Soup for all these years. I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a 130,000-word bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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