An essay from a century ago that I learned about in middle school literature class.
Hsü Ti-shan （1893 – 1941）
There was a small plot of empty land behind our house. My mother said, “it’s quite a shame to leave it uncultivated. You like eating peanuts so much, so why don’t you plant some peanuts there?” My siblings and I were quite happy. We bought some seeds, plowed the soil, sew the seeds, and applied water and fertilisers. Before many months passed, we actually had a harvest.
My mother said, “tonight we have a little harvesting feast. We will invite your father over and let him taste our peanuts. How about that?” Mother made the peanuts into quite a few kinds of foods, and instructed that we would have the feast around the small table in the backyard.
The weather that night wasn’t good, but father did come. It was truly a rare occasion.
My father asked, “Do you like eating peanuts?”
We all answered in unison, “Yeah!”
“Who can tell me some good qualities of peanuts?”
My sister said, “Peanuts taste good.”
My elder brother said, “Peanuts can be used to produce oil.”
I answered “Peanuts are affordable, and anybody can buy some to enjoy. This is its benefit to us.”
My father responded, “Peanuts have many qualities, but one of them is the most valuable: it buries its fruit into the soil. Unlike peaches, pomegranates, and apples, and so on, who display their brightly-coloured fruits on high tree branches, and capture people’s desire at first sight. You see, peanut plants grow low and down to earth. Even when it’s time to harvest, one cannot immediately tell whether a plant has born fruits or not, and needs to dig.”
We agreed, and my mother nodded too.
My father continued, “thus you should be like a peanut — it is not visually appealing, but very versatile and useful.”
I recall myself remarking, “so, one should become a useful person, not one who’s overly after pleasant appearances, and neglect to truly help others.
My father nodded, “yes. This is my expectation of you all.”
We chatted until quite late that night. All the peanut foods were eaten up, but my father’s words are deeply imprinted upon my heart.