Pessimism and Petunias
by Ellis Parker Butler
Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper frowned deeply as he walked home from the lecture at the Riverbank Commercial Club. His spirit was deeply troubled; the weight of a world rushing to a final Armageddon and ruin was heavy on his shoulders. After the lecture the intelligentsia of Riverbank had talked things over at the Club and the general verdict had been that the best anyone could look for was the worst, and that Civilization was going straight to pot. The judge was surprised, when he entered his home, to see that the motherly countenance of Mrs. Hooper did not show an equal burden of world worry.
"Lem," said Mrs. Hooper cheerfully, before the judge had rid himself of his overcoat, "can you write me a check?"
"Check?" exclaimed Judge Hooper gloomily. "Check? What do you want a check for? Going to throw some more good money away? What's the use? If it's the Armenians, let 'em starve; the world's going to the dogs anyway. Or is it your Missionary Society this time? What's the use missioning all over the world when the whole structure of civilization is rotted to the core and liable to bust up and cave in any minute?"
"But, Lem --" said Mrs. Hooper.
"Don't 'Lem' me. Emma! Here's Bolshevism gnawing our vitals on one hand and literature and the drama smelling to heaven on the other, and America's future in the hands of a generation of cocktail-drinking, cigarette-smoking flappers and lounge-lizards without a brain in the lot --"
"But, Lem --" said Mrs. Hooper.
"Look at Europe!" said Judge Hooper bitterly. "Smash and ruin, that's what's coming, I tell you! The whole world rushing to chaos and barbarism, carrying us down to savagery and -- and so forth -- and you want to send another check to one of your silly Societies for the Promotion of International Affection or something."
"But I don't, Lem," said Mrs. Hooper with unchanged cheerfulness. "All I want is a check for eighteen dollars and sixty cents --"
"I told you so!" cried Judge Hooper. "The world ending tomorrow or next day and you want a check --"
"For my garden seeds," said Mrs. Hooper placidly.
"Hey?" queried Judge Hooper. "For what?"
"My garden seeds," said Mrs. Hooper. "I've been making out my list and I'm ready to send it in. I want to send it in early; last year I was too late to get those Double-Fringed Extra Fluted Petunias that I wanted so much, you'll remember."
"Petunias!" exclaimed the Judge. "Petunias, Emma! You stand there with the world rushing to Armageddon, with the globe facing economic chaos, with a return to barbarism trembling in the air, and you talk of petunias!"
"Oh, bother you and your Armageddon!" laughed Mrs. Hooper. "You and your Armageddons and chaos things can go hang, Lem. We'll talk about them some other time, if you want to, but here it is almost the middle of March and it is time I ordered my seeds. This isn't any Armageddon nonsense; this is about my garden."
"A garden!" cried Judge Hooper. "A flower garden! Here's the world busting through and this woman is going to plant petunias and pansies and blue-fringed thingumbobs! Here's Civilization crashing and this woman is going to put seeds in the ground and water them and weed them and coax and cuddle them just as if she thought the world would last all summer! Just as if she thought the flowers would blossom as always! Woman, do you know what you are?"
"You're guilty of hope!" declared Judge Hooper. "You're carrying on as if the world might last until October. Have you studied the statistics? No! Have you read the reports of the committees? No! Have you heeded the moans of the parlor perturbers? Not a heed! You plan a garden and you think your seeds will blossom and bloom no matter what Chart XII shows! You're guilty of faith!"
"Nonsense, Lem!" laughed Mrs. Hooper. "You don't frighten me with your big words and phrases. I'm only getting ready for my garden as I always do."
"Ah!" exclaimed Judge Hooper; "but that is your crime, Mrs. Hooper. You are guilty of Spring! When some of our finest and fussiest brains are globes of gloom, you are guilty of hope. You won't view with alarm. You won't view with anything; you go right ahead and plant petunias. When the world is wabbling you calmly plant petunias and pansies and double-fringed thingumbobs in a garden!"
"Well, I can't imagine what is the matter with you tonight, Lemuel Hooper," said Mrs. Hooper. "I don't see why I shouldn't plant a garden this year just as usual. Spring is the time to plant seeds and they usually bloom in Summer, and I've never yet known a year when Summer did not follow Spring. If you want to fret about Armageddon you may do so. I dare say it is as useful as playing pinochle at the Club, and doesn't do you much more harm. But this I do know, Lemuel: gardens grew when my grandmother was a girl, and gardens grew when my mother was a girl, and as long as I've been alive Summer has followed Spring, and I don't know why it should be any different this year."
"Well, to tell you the truth, Emma," said Judge Hooper, as he drew his checkbook from his hip-pocket, "I don't, either, but I sort of hate to admit it when gloom is so stylish."