Magic Box

Farmer, worked hard, by end of his life his farm was large and prosperous.

Died, left all to his only son.

Son lazy, employed others to do work while he enjoyed wealth.

Gradually farm workers became slack, farm was less prosperous. Soon all wealth had been dissipated.

Son poor and desperate, consulted wise woman. She gave him a box with small holes in it.

“This contains a magic powder. All you need to do is sprinkle a few grains in each of your fields when everyone begins work – guarantee that farm will prosper. But you must not open box!”

Son did this every day. Farm prospered.

After many years, son on deathbed. Curious about box, opened it at last – found it contained nothing.
Of course, it had been enough that very morning farm workers saw he was there: naturally they had worked diligently – as he had himself, just like his own father.

This is my skeleton of an Italian tale. The story is included in The Way of the Storyteller (Ruth Sawyer, 1942).

When I asked on Storytell, a friend posted the following, and kindly gave me permission to add it here:

“The Magic Box” is one of my husband’s favorite stories. Ruth Sawyer’s version has been the one in my experience. Here is an expansion of the synopsis, one that I hope gives you richer meat for the bones that you have shared

There are 2 sons in the story. The eldest, who is the heir, goes away to war. The second son, named Tonio, was left to care for his brother’s land. That son wasn’t really lazy. He didn’t want to do the farm work, and was more of a “Party animal.” He loved to play his fiddle, dance, and drink with friends.

What finally propelled him into action was when he noticed that many soldiers were returning from the war. He became afraid that his brother would “run his rapier through him” when he saw the condition of the farm. He panicked, and went all about the village seeking advice. The neighbors scorned him for wasting his father’s wealth and ruining a very productive farm. His lover wanted him to dance. The priest wanted him to repent and accept his fate. A small boy sent him to the old “Tzigani” woman, ages old and withered as a dried fig. He poured out his story. Then she gave him the box that was sealed with metal brass bands. Tiny holes were drilled into its top. She entreated him to never break the bands to open it for if he did, he would lose all the magic that was in the box! Instead he should get up early every morning, while the dew still lies heavy, and shake one grain of the box’s “magical” contents in every corner of the farm: in vineyards, orchards, and pastures.

And so he did. Along the way, he found workers sleeping in the fields. He found a barn with a leaky roof. He found orchards and vineyards that needs pruning. He “kicked” the workers out to the fields to do their jobs. And over a course of time the farm began to improve. All the while he worried about his brother’s return.

Over time things improved greatly. He forgot about his worries, and wondered if his brother had died in the war. The second son persevered in his efforts to care for the farm. He married, and had children of his own. They all learned to help him, and like his father had done, the farm prospered and was the finest farm in all of the valley.

On his deathbed, he told his children to break the bands. In the box they found a note, tucked under the lid: “Look you, the master’s eye is needed over all.” Here is the last line from Sawyer: “In the bottom (of the box) were a few grains of sand left, the common kind that any wayfarer can gather up for himself from the road that climbs to the Apennines.”

I probably got a bit carried away, but you brought up one of my own favs, and my hub’s as I said. He comes from a long line of California farmers. When we were courting, he heard me tell this story, and I saw tears in his eyes. He urged me to tell it for a collection of farmers in California’s central valley where much of the world’s food still grows. Since then, I’ve also told it to several agricultural groups. I hope that my missive helps.

bz smith sonora, ca

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