BLITZ KRIEG PUBLISHING
Ruby's Roses was recently chosen as
"101 Best Stories of Chicken Soup for the Soul."
The original story was published a few years ago in
"Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul." Other writers with
stories in that book include Erma Bombeck, Nelson Mandela, and
The neighborhood kids nicknamed the cranky old couple Crazy
Jack and Ruby Rednose. Rumor was that they sat inside and drank
whiskey all day.
It was true that Jack and Ruby Jones preferred to keep to
themselves. About the only words we ever heard from them were
"Keep out of our rosebushes!"
The rosebushes were seventy beautiful floribunda shrubs that
served as a fence between our house and theirs. The rose fence
took quite a bit of abuse, since our house was the neighborhood
I was eleven at the time and the oldest of six active girls.
We should have played our softball games elsewhere to avoid
hurting the roses, but we secretly enjoyed irritating Crazy Jack
and Ruby Rednose.
Jack and Ruby had a son whom we nicknamed Crazy Jack Junior.
He was due to come home from Vietnam. We heard he had been
discharged because of a nervous breakdown. The neighborhood had
thrown a big party for Jimmy Brown when he came home from the
war, but no one offered to have a party for Crazy Jack Junior.
The day Crazy Jack Junior was scheduled to come home, we had
a neighborhood softball game in our yard. Johnny McGrath was
trying to catch a fly ball. He stumbled over one of Ruby
Rednose's thorny rosebushes and fell on top of several more.
Boy, did he yell. But the roses were the ones that really
From my vantage point at second base, it looked like about
ten of them were damaged pretty badly.
Johnny's timing was terrible, because as he lay there
swearing at the roses, the Joneses' pickup rolled into the
driveway. The truck screeched to a halt and Crazy Jack Junior
sprang out. He ran full speed toward Johnny.
"You little punk!" he screamed. "Look what you've done to our
family's roses! You've always been trouble. I'm going to fetch
my gun and shoot you!"
The next few minutes were a blur. The neighborhood kids ran
for their lives. Ruby and Jack tried to restrain their son. He
continued to yell threats and profanities.
Ruby wasn't my favorite person, but I felt sorry for her when
I saw her tearfully pleading with Crazy Jack Junior. Finally,
they coaxed him inside.
Meanwhile, my sisters and I tore into our house.
Breathlessly, we told Mom what had happened.
She put down her sewing and scolded, "Girls, I have told you
not to play softball near those bushes. Come outside right now
and help me fix them."
"Mom, we thought you didn't like the Joneses," we protested.
"They're mean to us. Besides, Crazy Jack Junior might shoot us."
Mom just glared at us. We followed her outside to help mend
the rose fence.
While Mom examined the damaged roses, my sisters and I hung
back, plotting how to get out of the thorny job. As we whispered
back and forth, the Joneses' garage door opened and Ruby slowly
walked out. She looked sad. And it wasn't her nose that was red,
it was her eyes.
Ruby walked over to my mother. The two women stood looking at
each other through the new gap in the rose fence. We girls held
our breath, waiting to see who would shout first and what
terrible things would be said. How much trouble would we be in
when it was all over?
Suddenly my mother stepped forward and hugged Ruby. "I'm glad
your son came back home," she said gently. "It must have been a
horrible experience in Vietnam. We're sorry about the flowers.
"The girls will replace them if we can't fix them. In return
for all the bother, they'll help you weed the roses this
My sisters and I looked at each other in horror, but Ruby
smiled at my mother through her tears.
"I know we're particular about these roses," she said, "but
they're very special to us. When my mother came from England,
she brought one tiny part of her favorite rosebush. That was her
reminder of home."
She paused for a minute, then said sadly, "My mother had a
magic touch with flowers. Over the years that one plant
multiplied into all these bushes. Since she died, I've tried to
keep them up, but I just don't have her magic touch."
Her voice was all choked up. "Mom died while Jack Junior was
in Vietnam. He just found out about her death today. When he saw
her rosebushes damaged, it was the last straw."
Ruby mopped at her tears. "Once we got him inside and calmed
down, he admitted he's out of control. Jack just drove him to
Clinton Valley to be admitted to a treatment program."
By now I felt really bad for the Jones family-what a
sorrowful homecoming! I could tell my mother and sisters felt
"We all enjoy the roses as much as you do. We wi1l be happy
to help you care for them," my mother said. "You know, some
people say I have a magic touch with flowers, too."
Soon both women were down on their knees talking and
examining the damaged bushes together. A few weeks later, the
plants had all returned with vigor.
My mother and Ruby worked together on the roses all summer
long and many summers to follow. So did my sisters and I.
A friendship formed between the families that would include
countless birthdays, graduations and weddings-including Jack
Junior's. Years later, when her son left home and her husband
died, Ruby became part of our family, spending many happy hours
at our house.
She wasn't Ruby Rednose anymore; she was Aunt Ruby.
And the rose fence wasn't a fence any longer. My mother had
turned it into a bridge.
Author's Note: About the same time the story was
published, 100 of the rosebushes in the story were moved from
Ruby's yard to the author's house, and have also been planted in
other locations in Highland Township, Michigan.