was just a harmless prank, that's all it was.
it wasn't as if Old Lady Hayes didn't deserve it.
The way she used to scream at us for
"borrowing" a few of her precious
raspberries each summer, like we were stealing gold
out of Fort Knox... well, she had it coming.
least, that's the way we saw it as George finished
tying the string to the red, heart-shaped box. We
giggled as Ron added the final touch: two plastic
red roses, glued to the lid. "I wonder what
will surprise her most," I asked as George
practiced jerking the box out of reach by yanking on
the string. "Seeing a box of candy on her step,
or watching it fly away when she tries to pick it
laughed as we watched George make Albert chase the
box around the garage. For a chubby 10-year-old,
Albert did a good imitation of Mrs. Hayes's hunched
hobble and her seemingly permanent scowl. And we
howled when he picked up a broom and pretended to
ride it through the midwinter air while shouting,
"I'm Old Lady Hayes, the driedest-up old prune
in the West!"
was first to notice my dad in the doorway. Within
seconds, Ron's anxiety was shared by all but Albert,
who continued to swoop around the garage until he
came face-to-belt-buckle with our silent observer.
For a moment the only movement in the room came from
the little puffs of steam escaping our mouths. Dad
broke the stillness by walking slowly to the empty
candy box lying on the floor. He picked it up and
dangled it by the string, watching it swing back and
forth. Then he looked into the eyes of the
frightened boys. And, as was his custom, he looked
into their hearts as well.
doesn't seem so long ago that I was pulling
Valentine's Day pranks," he said as he laid the
box on a workbench. "One year my cousins and I
decided to pull one on our Grandma Walker even
though we loved her -- she was the sweetest grandma
a boy could have. We were just feeling devilish and
decided to have some fun at her expense.
in the evening we snuck up to her doorstep with a
can of red paint. Grandma was hard of hearing, so we
didn't have to worry about being very quiet. Which
was a good thing, because every time we thought
about how funny it was going to be to see Grandma
try to pick up a valentine that was just painted on
her doorstep, we couldn't keep from laughing.
didn't take long, and it wasn't very artistic. But
for an old woman with bad eyes, it would do. We
kicked the door and hid behind bushes. When Grandma
finally appeared she stood in the doorway, her gray
hair pulled back tightly into her usual bun, wiping
her hands on her usual apron. She must have heard
the commotion in the bushes because she looked in
our direction and spoke loudly enough for us to
hear: 'Who could be knocking at my door?' Then she
looked down. Even from 15 feet away we could see the
joy in her eyes when she spotted a splash of red at
valentine for Grandma!' she exclaimed. 'And I
thought I'd be forgotten again this year!'
tried to retrieve her prize. This was the moment we
had been waiting for, but somehow it wasn't as much
fun as we expected. Grandma groped at the fresh
paint for a moment. Slowly, she figured out our
prank. She tried to smile. Then, with as much
dignity as she could muster, she turned and walked
back into her house, absently wiping red paint on
her clean, white apron."
paused, and for the first time I noticed that his
eyes were moist. He took a deep breath.
"Grandma died later that year," he said.
"I never had another chance to give her a real
took the box from the bench and handed it to me.
Then he turned and left the garage.
that night a red, heart-shaped box with two plastic
roses on it was placed on Mrs. Hayes's front
doorstep by six giggling boys. We hid behind
snow-covered bushes to see how she would react to
receiving a full pound of candy and nuts.
no strings attached.