There once lived a farmer who worked hard to till his land and feed his three children. His wife had died some years before and he realized that he was getting on in years and should think about how he would one day pass on the land to his children. Should he die suddenly he didn’t want there to be any fighting over who would get what. So he called his two sons and his daughter together and told them that he had designed a contest. Each would have a turn at filling the shed beside the barn as full as they could. The one to fill it the most would be the winner and would get to have the first choice of land to inherit. The children agreed and the father turned to his oldest child, his son, and nodded.
The first boy went all over the land and gathered every stone and boulder and pebble and brought them back to the shed where he piled them all in. He pushed and shoved and carried until he closed the shed door with difficulty. The shed’s walls and door bulged with the weight of the stones inside. The boy, knees and elbows scraped and bloodied, turned to his father.
The father nodded and smiled and said, “That is a very good effort. I am most impressed.” Then he bent down and picked up a handful of dirt which he threw into the shed through cracks in the wall. The sand disappeared inside. “A very good effort,” repeated the father. “Now let us see how your brother can do.”
The shed was cleaned out and the second child, taking a wheelbarrow, gathered as much sand and dirt as he could from all over the farm. Load after load, he piled the sand and dirt into the shed. He pushed it in and stamped it down and packed it tight. With the door shut and bulging he still pushed sand and dirt in under the crack. He packed it into the cracks. Again the walls of the shed bulged from the weight of the sand inside. The boy turned to his father.
“Very impressive. A mighty feat. I congratulate you.” Then the father went over to a bucket of water and filled a cup which he brought back to the shed and poured the water in through a crack in the roof. The water disappeared inside. “A good and noble effort, my son. Now let us see what your sister can do.”
The shed was emptied once again but when the father and boys looked for the girl, she was nowhere to be seen. They called out, looked around, and then heard the door of the house open. The girl was carrying something cupped in her hands. She walked past her father and her brothers into the shed and placed something down in the middle. She stepped back and her brothers and father saw that it was a candle. And the light from that candle filled that shed to every corner. The girl turned and faced her father and brothers and they smiled at her.
I love this story and most often tell it as a riddle, asking listeners to guess at what it was the girl placed in the shed to win the contest. I told this last week in the park to my son (who has heard the story several times) and his friends (who have heard the story at least a couple of times - on one of my storytelling visits to their class) and still, they loved the story and loved the riddle.