There is a place nestled in the fertile Spiegelberg Orchards known as “Pappy’s Pumpkin Patch.” The sandy soil and favorable climate produced a trainload of the popular fall crop.
The patch was watched over by an old oak tree that had weathered the summer sun and storms of Northeast Ohio. In the distance was a beautiful and large pond that served as a watering trough for the whitetail deer that visited its cool, clean waters, especially in early morning and at twilight.
Farmer Ralph, affectionately known as Pappy, worked the ground because he loved to see things grow and the patch provided a 92-day observatory to monitor the pumpkins’ progress from seeds to mature bright orange treasures. Several of Ralph’s pumpkins won blue ribbons at the Lorain County Fair. Besides the deer, a menagerie of animals visited the patch. Squirrels, rabbits, rodents, groundhogs, and raccoons would challenge the farmer’s success by feasting on the tender shoots when the plants were young and by hollowing the pumpkins’ interiors when they reached a larger size.
Pappy’s grandchildren would wander through the patch when they visited Pappy Ralph and they would select their prize pumpkins to take home. Their childish minds prompted little arms to stretch out to the very limit of their capacity when Pappy asked, “How big will your pumpkins grow?”
One extremely unpopular animal that made infrequent visits to the patch was a red fox that the children sarcastically named “Sly.” The children had been persuaded by Pappy that Sly was up to no good. The fox would hide among the pumpkin vines and pounce upon some unsuspecting rabbit that was looking for a free meal.
A $25 bounty had been offered for fox fur in Ohio, so Pappy set a steel trap. This trap played a prominent role in the legend that was soon to be attached to the infamous red fox.
The grandchildren had traveled to Amherst to celebrate Christmas with Pappy and Mimi. After lunch on Christmas Eve they wandered out to the patch. As they drew closer they heard a shrill shriek from a groundhog that had mistakenly stepped into the trap.
They slowed their pace and quietly peeked around the corner of the old barn that stood adjacent to the pumpkin patch. What they saw caused their mouths to fly open! Sly, living up to his name, and the resourceful intelligence that foxes are known for, had manipulated the trap so the groundhog could escape the life-threatening apparatus.
The furry animal had been wounded by the unforgiving trap and had suffered a broken leg. So Sly dug his sharp teeth into the scruff of the groundhog’s neck and dragged him to shelter underneath the barn.
When Pappy Ralph was debriefed on this heroic effort he deployed his broad and deep knowledge of the Bible to teach his grandchildren that the followers of Jesus are commanded to “love their enemies (Matthew 5:44).
The children’s eyes lit up like stars, they clapped their hands, and then exclaimed, “Pappy, Sly the Fox did a Jesus deed!” Pappy found his face expressing a grateful smile that his grandchildren had understood the life lesson.
The following spring, during another visit to the patch, the children noticed a red fox running side by side with a groundhog. Perhaps one day they will learn another very valuable lesson — namely, if you want to get rid of an enemy, make him a friend.
The Rev. Arnold Fleagle is senior pastor at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Amherst. Each year he writes a Christmas story for his congregation and this season shared it with us.