empty old house
its door ajar now
boys’ brave brags
empty old house
its door ajar now
boys’ brave brags
My response to the Word of the Day prompt: BRAVADO
by Edgar Guest
They put his spotless surplice on
and tied his flowing tie
And he was fair to look upon
As he went singing by.
He sang the hymns with gentle grace,
that little lad of nine,
for there was something in his face
which seemed almost divine.
His downcast eye was good to see,
his brow was smooth and fair,
and no one dreamed that there could be
a rascal plotting there.
Yet when all heads in prayer were bowed,
God’s gracious care to beg
the boy next to him cried aloud:
“Quit pinching on my leg!”
A pious little child he seemed
an angel born to sing;
beholding him none ever dreamed
he’d do a naughty thing;
yet many a sudden “Ouch!” proclaimed
that he had smuggled in
for mischief-making, unashamed,
a most disturbing pin.
And yet I think, from high above,
the Father looking down
knows everything he’s thinking of
and smiles when mortals frown.
For in the spotless surplice white
which is his mother’s joy,
He know he’s not an angel bright,
but just some healthy boy.
From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A Guest
© 1934 by The Reilly & Lee Company
Which brings to mind a short tale I once read, one that goes back to the days when every rural home had a wood stove in the kitchen, a tree stump that served as a chopping block for splitting logs, and a pile of firewood near the house for easy access in winter.
The Seventh-grade boys put their heads together at recess one afternoon. They were feeling kind of bored and wanted to think of something fun and different they could do sometime. Several ideas were advanced and vetoed.
Then someone offered the suggestion: “Why don’t we get together after dark some night over at old man Haskell’s place and play some trick on him.” This suggestion piqued the interest of the others.
‘Old man Haskell’ was their community’s equivalent of Oscar-the-Grouch. Living just out of town, gruff, abrupt, and somewhat crippled, he didn’t have a lot of patience for young boys. He grumbled when they cut through his yard to go fishing and if he saw them hanging around town he’d scold them for being idle. They should be working hard like he always had to, and so on.
At school the boys sometimes mimicked his mannerisms. Grabbing a stick for a cane, hunching over and hobbling along, they’d turn and scowl at the other boys just like old man Haskell would. They never let teacher catch them at this, though. Teachers were pretty strict about respecting your elders.
“But what trick could we play on old man Haskell? Upset his outhouse?”
“Nah, that’s old hat. But I have an idea,” said Len. “Let’s un-stack his woodpile.”
The others looked at him curiously. “We can scatter his firewood all over his old yard,” Len explained. ” I think that would be a great trick to play on him. He’d have to pick it all up. That’d keep him busy for awhile and he wouldn’t have time to gripe at us.”
One of the other conspirators beamed. “Yeah, let’s! Wouldn’t that be fun – and serve him right for being such a grouch.”
The fourth conspirator, Rudy, scuffed his toe in the dirt. He didn’t really see the fun in tossing wood for hours, but did see possible consequences. “What if we get caught,” he asked. Much as he wanted to be part of the gang, it niggled at him how his dad would react if he heard this? Rudy had been taught to respect older folks and other folks’ property.
“It’ll be dark,” Len retorted. “Old man Haskell will never see us. And for sure he’ll never catch us — you know how slow he moves. What do you think, guys? Let’s meet in front of his place at nine tonight and have some real fun.”
That evening four boys crept away from their respective homes. Just after nine o’clock Len and his three accomplices slipped into Haskell’s yard and began tossing firewood off the pile. It became a game to see how far they could throw it. Still, there was an undercurrent of tension. They worked quietly, glancing often toward Haskell’s shack to see if the curtain moved or the door opened, though they knew he was hard of hearing.
With four pairs of hands working, the woodpile was soon scattered all over the yard. When they were done, Len rubbed his hands on his pants. “Okay. Let’s beat it, guys.”
“Won’t it be a joke when old man Haskell gets up in the morning and sees this mess? Wish I could be here to see his face. Ha ha!”
Rudy had been quiet most of the evening, his conscience stirring uneasily. He made his way home again, hoping he could slip in without his parents hearing him? But could he face his Dad in the morning? His dad was pretty sharp.
He tried to not make a sound but his father heard him come in and questioned why he’d been out so late on a school night? Rudy was evasive, but finally revealed the prank. “But old m…I mean Mr Haskell is such a grouch. We thought he deserved it.”
“Yes, Mr Haskell does seem cranky, but you boys don’t know what he’s been through in life and what he’s suffering now with his health issues. It’s going to be extremely painful for him to gather up all that wood and put that pile back together.”
Dad looked at him quietly for a few minutes and Rudy blushed under his silent disapproval. Suddenly Dad stood up. “So let’s us play a good prank now — and a joke on your school mates at the same time. Come on. Let’s get your brothers up.”
Dad called Rudy’s two brothers and he and his three accomplices went back to old man Haskell’s place. Working in the light of the moon for several hours, they not only put his woodpile back together, but stacked all the wood much closer to the house so he wouldn’t have so far to go to fetch his firewood come winter. They were enthused about the task and made good time once they got in the groove. When the job was done, they surveyed the neat yard and exchanged satisfied smiles. Near as they could tell, Mr Haskell never heard a thing.
“Now, boys,” Dad said, “Isn’t a prank like this a lot more fun than just making trouble for an old man? When Mr Haskell gets up in the morning and looks out, instead of seeing a huge mess he has to clean up, he’ll see his woodpile has moved twenty yards closer to his door.”
“Oh, yeah. Wish I could see his face when he gets a gander! That’ll be a neat joke,” Rudy’s younger brother said as they turned toward home again.
Rudy’s older brother nodded. “One he’ll appreciate right well, I reckon.”
Rudy grinned as he thought of Len’s reaction. “Len’s eyes are going to bulge right out of his head when he hears about this.”
“Let’s not tell anyone we did it though,” Dad cautioned. “Let them keep guessing who came here after they did.”
“That’ll be the best joke of all.” Rudy imagined the shock the other un-stackers would get when news got around. He knew Mr Haskell would never keep quiet about his walking woodpile.
Al had been enjoying the park scenes for awhile and now sat down on a bench in the shade with his magazine. He relaxed and stretched out his two legs — one real and one wooden. He noted that his one sock had slid down, so he bent over to pull it up, pulling up that pant leg in the process.
A young boy, walking past right then, came to a sudden stop and stared at the funny-looking leg. Al chuckled to himself; his wooden leg had attracted the interest of many a child over the years. Most adults were too polite to stare outright, call attention to the odd appendage, or ask questions that might embarrass him, but not the boys he met.
This one couldn’t resist, either. “Hey Mister, why does your leg look so funny? Is it real?”
“Nah. It’s a wooden leg.”
“Really!” The youngster moved closer. “Does it work just like a real one?”
“Pretty much, if I’m careful how I stand on it and move it.”
Al rolled up his pant leg as far as he could and the boy came very close. Al guessed him to be about eight, just the age to be curious about everything.
The boy inspected Al’s leg for a minute, then reached out and gave it a little knock. “Does that hurt?”
Al grinned. “Not at all.”
The two of them exchanged a few more pleasantries about walking on wooden legs, then the boy turned around and dashed off. Al went back to reading his magazine. But before long the boy was back, leading several other, mostly younger children.
“Hey Mister, can you show me your wooden leg again?”
Al frowned. He didn’t particularly feel like being a circus side show. “You’ve seen it once. That’s enough.”
“Awww… can’t you show me again. Please. My friends want to see it.”
“I think you should just run along and play with your friends now.”
One of the younger children started to wail. “You promised! You owe me a quarter.”
“I want mine back, too,” another boy grumbled.
Al looked over his magazine and began to listen to this exchange.
One little girl marched up to the boy and glared.“Yeah, Fred.” She waved her finger in his face. “You promised and if you can’t get him do it, you need to give all of us our quarters back.”
Al leaned toward the delinquent Fred. “What’s going on here? Why did you take their quarters?”
“Please, Mister, can’t you just show us your wooden leg. I, uh, promised them you would.”
The assertive little miss piped up. “He charged us a quarter each to see it.”
Fred seemed sulky at the prospect of refunding his fee. “Can’t you show it to us for just a minute. Pretty please,” he wheedled.
“No! Now beat it or I’ll kick you with it!”
The thought of being kicked by a wooden leg was enough to send all of them running. “Kids!” Al grumbled as he went back to reading his magazine. But a minute later he chuckled. “That boy will probably go far in the business world.”
Al Capp, creator of the comic strip, Li’l Abner, lost his leg in an accident when he was still a boy. Going through life with a wooden leg led to some interesting situations, including this one. This story would be classed as creative non-fiction, something he related with a chuckle in an interview sometime in his later years.