A Belfry Tale

A retelling by Ruthie Voth

Friars are not materialistic people; they live solely on the charity of others. It’s not an easy life, and only a humble man will stick with it for many years. This is the story of friars Gabe and Francis. They joined the order of the Carmelites at a young age, wanting to get away from the fast pace of the world. They wanted time to contemplate life and eternity, so together the two friends joined this community of peaceful men.

They lived for many pleasant years, sharing nightly thoughtful discussions with equally poor friends. And they spent countless hours in silence. But time, as it always will, brings changes, poverty, quietude and old age proved too much for many of their companions. So at the ages of 62 and 63, Friar Gabe and Friar Francis found themselves alone in their friary.

Their small house seemed cavernous now that it was shared by only two men. Eventually they moved their sleeping rolls to the little room on the north side of the chapel.

The friars shared a love for two things: their gardens and the chapel. When they weren’t bound to their religious duties, these were the places that Gabe and Francis were most likely to be found. But even to the peaceful, trouble is bound to come … eventually.

For Francis and Gabe, trouble came in the form of their crumbling belfry. Every time one of them pulled the bell rope, calling people to prayer, he said a fervent prayer himself, hoping that the bell would not come crashing down on his head. Obviously something had to be done. In the old days, when the place was swarming with men, it wouldn’t have been such a problem. Now, there were just the two of them, starting to get up in years, and with barely enough money for materials, not to mention hiring skilled laborers. The two friars did their best to let people in the town know of their plight. They set up collection boxes and managed to raise a small amount to put toward a new belfry. But it wasn’t enough.

Finally, they realized that the time had come for them to give up their mendicant way of living. For the first time in almost four decades, they were going to have to look for work. And so they tried. And tried. And tired of trying.

Over the years, they had come to realize that the two of them had complementary talents. Friar Gabe excelled at producing the most beautiful flowers in town, and Friar Francis had the gift of making lovely arrangements that the brothers would deliver to the sick and suffering. When the job search proved futile, they decided to put their gifts to work — they opened a florist shop.

From day one, the business was a hit. Townspeople who had admired the thriving gardens at the friary and faked illness in order to get a sympathy arrangement could now purchase their own bouquets on the slightest whim. Business boomed — possibly due to the fact that these men had lived their entire lives without making financial success a priority. Old habits die hard. The Lord provided the flowers free of charge; why should they jack up the price to make a profit? People in the town loved to come and do business with these kind friars and their miniscule prices.

But there was one person in town who was not so excited about this new florist shop. That, naturally, was the owner of the previously existing florist shop — the one so creatively named “Pete’s Flowers.”

Now Pete was not a bad man. He was a decent guy with a family to support. He did his job and did it well, but it didn’t take him long to notice that his customers were coming in less and less frequently. He lowered prices. He offered special deals. He posted advertising flyers around town. He lowered prices again. But it wasn’t enough.

He paid a visit to the friars and pled with them to raise their prices, so he could make enough money to support his family. But Francis and Gabe couldn’t come to terms with putting high prices on something that had cost them nothing. They refused.

Pete sent his wife, surrounded by their six young children, to beg the friars to have mercy on her family. They felt pity for the family, and gave them some of their hard-earned money.
It wasn’t what Pete had in mind.

He asked his next door neighbor, who had once spent a year at the friary, to go and have a talk with Gabe and Francis. Surely he could talk them into shutting down their business and going back to their normal way of life. But they had come to love selling flowers. They liked the interaction with the people, they said.

Pete went back again and again, trying to talk sense into these foolish men with no business sense who were ruining his life. He sent others to talk to them — anyone who might have a chance of getting the point across. They just didn’t get it. The poor guy tried every line, every angle, every trick he could think of, and nothing worked. He was losing money fast, and feeling desperate.

You know what desperate times call for … desperate measures. Pete finally went out and looked up the one man he’d spent most of his life avoiding: Hugh. Hugh was the biggest, the baddest, the meanest thug imaginable. He’d step on your new puppy and then throw it in your sweet grandma’s face without ever batting an eye. He was too mean even to have a sidekick. Nobody wanted to hang around with Hugh.

If you wanted to hire someone to shut down a business, Hugh was your man. Pete spent the last of his dwindling cash fund on this one final attempt.

No one knows what happened at the friary the evening Hugh stopped by for a visit. The details of that night will be carried quietly to three graves. But the next morning, Francis and Gabe set all their cut flowers on a table outside the door with a sign announcing “FREE” and hung a “CLOSED” sign on the door. They never sold another flower. The following summer their gardens were not so lush. Several years later, the greenery around the monastery was practically nonexistent. Eventually, the town forgot that there ever were two such talented lovers of flowers in its midst.

Pete’s business, however, flourished with the competition gone. As his sons grew into men, he was able to expand and stock shops in several neighboring towns.
The friars never rebuilt the belfry. It eventually crumbled completely. Francis was injured only slightly when the bell fell.

This tale has been long, sad and full of woe, but it comes with a cheery little moral. And that is: “Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.”