The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy

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The Breadbasket of Babbington

Chapter 2 of

Where Do You Stop?

by Peter Leroy

It was my fervent hope that my maternal grandfather, whom I called Guppa, a crackerjack Studebaker salesman and also something of an inventor, would someday appear on Flo and Freddie’s show.  I think I must have gotten the idea the very first time I watched the show, but I can’t be sure about that; it’s hard to pin down the onset of an idea. I pestered poor Guppa about it endlessly.  At that time he was laboring to cultivate a garden plot in our back yard, so he was at our house most evenings, hacking away at the grove of bamboo at the foot of the hill, which made him an easy target for my pestering.
The hill was actually a mound created by the builder of our house.  Before construction began he had scraped the lot bare and flat, plowing all the scrub pine and scrub oak into a mound that ran along the rear property line like a drumlin deposited by a retreating glacier. Tree trunks and stumps projected from this heap, and in it were gaps and caves to explore, but it provided my family more than mere amusement. It also gave us something to do, a mission we could undertake as a family: for nearly a year our Saturday occupation was supposed to be the elimination of this mound of debris. We never got very far. In time, weeds furred it, and it came to look something like a true hill, enough like a hill at any rate for my parents to accept it as a part of their landscape. In fact, since it was the only aspect of their landscape that varied from the smooth plane that the developer had created with his bulldozer, it became the proudest feature, and they stopped calling it "that mound" and began calling it "the hill." Then my mother, under the influence of an ad in a magazine, decided to make big money growing bamboo and fashioning fishing rods from it. The hill struck her as the perfect spot for a grove of bamboo, and that's where she planted it. From her venture we learned that the market for bamboo fishing rods was considerably smaller than we had thought and that once a grove of bamboo gets a foothold the stuff settles in for the long term, expanding at a slow but steady rate, annually claiming a little more territory. Our grove had spread down from the hill and started across the yard toward the house. We would hack away at it as fiercely as we could all weekend, but during the week, inch by inch, yard by yard, it would grow right back.
My mother and I thought it might be best to give up and let it grow, but my father had developed a grudge against it. "The stuff is going to take over," he'd say. "It's just like the goddamned Communists. You can't let them get established. Some day you'll know what I mean, Peter. Some day you'll see."
When Guppa decided that he wanted to cultivate a garden, the garden he had in mind soon outgrew the space he had in his own yard. He decided to use ours, which was much larger. Guppa never did this sort of thing by halves. He might have begun with the idea that he was going to have a backyard garden like anyone else's -- some radishes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and tomatoes -- but in his fertile mind ideas grew like bamboo on a trash heap. By the time he approached my father with the proposal that he plant his garden in our back yard, he had something considerably grander than radishes in mind.
"Wheat," he said to my father.
"Wheat?" said my father.
"Wheat," said Guppa. "Your back yard will be known as the breadbasket of Babbington."
"The breadbasket of Babbington," said my father.
"Like the wheat fields of Kansas, fabled in song, but on a smaller scale, of course," said Guppa.
"Of course," said my father.
"However," Guppa hastened to assure him, "within the limitations of scale, it will be just as magnificent."
"Sure, go ahead," said my father, to everyone's surprise.
"What I had in mind was to give you a share of the crop," said Guppa.
"That's all right," said my father. "I don't care about that."
"But there should be plenty for all of us," said Guppa.
"Okay," said my father. "It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. But I do have one condition."
"What's that?" asked Guppa.
"Beat that bamboo back to the hill and don't let it come back down across the yard." He picked up his paper and hid himself behind it.

So guppa became a sharecropper. He staked out a stretch of land running along one side of our lot, from the back of the garage to the foot of the hill. Every day when the weather was suitable for gardening he came over after work, wearing one of the identical brown suits that he always wore at work, suits that my grandmother, Gumma, called Studebaker suits, carrying a canvas bag in which he had his gardening clothes, a pair of overalls that really made him look like a farmer. When he had changed into his gardening outfit, it was easy to imagine him after the crop came in, standing in the field, watching the weather with a practiced eye, chewing on a stalk of his wheat. Until dusk each evening he worked quite happily with hoe and rake and spade. Under the pretense of helping him, I tried to make my case for his taking one of his inventions to Flo and Freddie. I urged him to rush home during his lunch hour to watch the show. To please me, he did, and then I chattered at him about the virtues and errors of inventions that had appeared there.
I discovered to my surprise that my grandfather was a shy man. He had no reticence at all about plunging into a Studebaker pitch with a complete stranger, but when it came to showing publicly the products of his own imagination, he was timorous and retiring. I wouldn't give up, though. I dragged Guppa through the entire inventory of his existing inventions and weighed them as possible Flo and Freddie items.
"What about the thing that raises the stuff in the drawer when you open it?" I suggested.
"That's not a complete success, Peter," he said.
"Aw, come on, Guppa," I said.
"Sometimes everything falls on the floor," he pointed out.
"Or on your feet," I admitted. "I guess you're right. Well what about the mailbox?" Guppa had rigged up the mailbox so that a light on top flashed if there was mail in it.
"That's a good one," he said, "but it's not my invention. I got it from Impractical Craftsman."
"Oh," I said.
I must have looked glum, because he said, "Look, Peter, I hate to see you disappointed in this. I tell you what. I've got a few gadgets in mind for the garden. While I'm working them out I'll be thinking about the show. Maybe I'll come up with something right for it."
"You will, Guppa," I said. "I know you will. I'm sure of it."
"No guarantees, Peter," he said.
No guarantees were necessary. I had already decided that if Guppa just put his mind to it he could come up with something that could get him onto "Fantastic Contraptions" -- and win.

[continued in the paperback edition]

-- Publishers Weekly

-- Library Journal


Where do You Stop? is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $10.00.

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Copyright © 1992 by Eric Kraft

Where Do You Stop? is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group. 

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.