Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Prank

Stephen Joseph Desjadon
photo from a collage of family portraits
Pat Cameron McGrath

The week of spring vacation from school was nearing its end.  The April weather had been nearly as warm as May with a shower or two that hastened the greening of tender new grass.
Larry and Lizzie hurried each morning to finish their chores, Lizzie helping Mother to make beds and shake out rugs, while Larry raked up winter debris in the yard and trundled it off in the wheelbarrow to the spot at the edge of the pasture where Father planned to have a bonfire.
Their tasks finished they were free to play outside until dinnertime.
Larry and Lizzie were slender and wiry, quick and agile, the two youngest children of the family.
They played hopscotch and took turns in the rope swing.  They tore about the yard being cowboys and Indians and Pony Express riders. Their energy and imaginations were unfailing.

Every day they were joined at some point by Junior B. who trudged down the road from his home half a mile away at the edge of the little town.
Junior was only 8, while Lizzie was 9 and Larry 11.
Still, Junior was far bigger than Lizzie and even out-weighed Larry.
Junior was a solemn, sturdy boy, slow-moving, the only off-spring of parents who had waited long for a child.

As Larry crouched beneath a maple tree, pretending to stir a campfire on the western prairies, Lizzie popped from behind the lilac bush with a shriek--an Indian on the warpath.  She and Larry whooped as she chased him around the yard.  They spotted Junior, puffing up the driveway and skidded to a halt.
"We'll have to play something else now," said Lizzie.  "Junior gets too far behind and fusses when we're on the warpath."
The three children played nicely for awhile.  Larry and Lizzie let Junior be the conductor when they pretended to be the train that chugged into the small branch-line depot up the road.
They played a game of tag, letting Junior catch them a time or two, but then he tripped on his shoelace and sank to the grass in a whimpering heap.
Lizzie tied his shoe and sensibly suggested that he blow his nose and quit crying as he didn't appear to be hurt.
She rolled her eyes at Larry over Junior's head.
"I don't want to run anymore," stated Junior, "I'm tired."
Larry pondered, frowning.  Entertaining Junior had gotten wearisome.
"We'll be mighty hunters," he announced. "Hunters don't have to run, they go quietly through the forest to sneak up on their prey."
Warming to the idea he directed, "Lizzie, you hunt the territory below the garden fence. I'll scout around the barnyard.  Junior, you can circle the haystakes."
Lizzie skipped toward the garden; Junior lumbered to his feet, cheeks still pink with running and with smeared tears.
As Junior turned toward the haystacks at the edge of the barnyard fence, Larry, a spirit of mischief rampant, called after him, "Junior, look out for bears.  My brother heard a strange noise behind the haystacks the other evening.  It might have been a bear."  And fair warning given, he trotted toward the barns.
Junior's plump chin wobbled, he twisted his fists in his overall pockets.
"I'm afraid of bears!"  Junior's voice was a tremulous wail. "Bears eat people!
I don't want to play with you anymore.  I'm going home and tell my mother you scared me!"
Lizzie halted and called after him, "Junior!  There aren't any bears.  Larry's just teasing."
But Junior was on the road home, his short legs pumping, his words jerked out in panting gasps,
"I'm going home....I"m going to tell."
Lizzie shrugged, "Well," she said, "That's enough of Junior for one day. I'm going in and help Mother get lunch on. She promised I could ring the dinner bell."
Larry scuffed up the path, kicking gravel. 
"He'll be back after lunch, he predicted gloomily. "You know how Junior is."
Lizzie disappeared through the shed and into the kitchen ell.
Larry leaned against the end wall of the shed, soaking up sun and thinking.
A wooden ladder was propped there where one of his older brothers had left it, and Larry climbed up a few rungs holding on with both hands and leaning backwards to look up at the sky.
A few more rungs and he was at the edge of the low roof.  Above him the chimney loomed, seldom used unless Father or one of the older boys built a fire in the pot-bellied stove in the shed.
Suddenly a plan blossomed in Larry's mind.
He hopped down the ladder, darted into the shed and came out with Mother's mop pail swinging from his hand.  He sauntered to the pump at the end of the yard, filled the pail and tucked it away behind the ladder just as the dinner bell clanged.  He imagined Lizzie standing on a chair, tugging at the rope pull which threaded  through the shed roof to dangle just inside the door.  He thought of telling Lizzie his plan, then decided, better not.
After lunch Father gathered the older boys to mend fence before turning the cows into the lower pasture.  Mother had sewing to finish and Lizzie loved to sit with her, handing her pins, lulled by the sound of the treadle rocking to and fro and the machine's whirring as Mother stitched.
Larry dawdled in the shed until Father and the boys were safely out of sight, then he carefully climbed the ladder to the low shed roof, his bucket of water balanced before him.
Junior would be back shortly, he knew from experience, and he intended giving that boy something to cry about.
Larry inched across the roof slates with his pail of water, positioned it carefully in front of the chimney and crouched behind the tower of bricks, just out of sight.
He had been there only moments when he heard footsteps crunching on the path below.
This was going to be even better than he planned.
Arm muscles tense with balancing the bucket, he waited until the footfalls were close, then gave the bucket a mighty shove.
There was a satisfying clatter, a splash and a startled gasp from below.
Expecting a high-pitched wail from Junior, Larry crawled around the chimney to hear a familiar voice exclaim,
"Ce qui se passe?"
"Oh, NO," thought Larry. "It's FATHER."
[Father and Mother had grown up in French-speaking families, but with their children in school had made the transition to English in the home, except when older family members were visiting, or--in moments of stress.]
Larry pulled himself upright, clinging to the chimney and peered down.
Father stood on the path below, water streaming from his cap and dripping from the ends of his moustache.
"What is going on?" he repeated, in English.  "Larry. Descendre! Come__down__now!"
Larry slid across the roof, scrambled down the ladder and made his way around the end of the shed.
Father had flung his sodden cap on the ground and was mopping his face and neck with his handkerchief.  He looked rather stern.
"Larry, what is this, eh?" Father pointed at the bucket which had rolled to the side of the path.
"Oh," said Larry unhappily. "Errr. Ummm. Father."
He drew himself up and squared his shoulders.  Father was not a tall man and Larry could look him in the eye--almost.
"I thought that you were Junior," began Larry. "I wouldn't have dumped the water on you, Father."
Father picked up his cap, wrung water from it, waited.
Words suddenly burst from Larry.  "It's Junior," he said crossly.  "He's been here every day, morning and afternoon.  He says he wants to play with Lizzie and me, but then he whines, he falls over his own feet and then he bawls. He wants us to play baby games and then he fusses and goes home mad no matter what."
He paused a moment to gather his thoughts and a word he had heard came to mind.
"Father, Junior is gullable!  I told him to look out for bears behind the haystack and he believed me.  He went home blatting.  I just thought when he came back I'd give him something to fuss about!"
Father sighed. "I see," he said.  "Mrs B. waited a long time for her little boy and I think maybe she would like him to stay a baby for a while longer."
Larry waited, wishing he had simply called his dog and taken a long walk after lunch.
Father ran his hand through his damp hair.
"Maybe it is good that I am wet and Junior is not here," he said finally.
"If you had caught Junior with your trick, he would go home wet, maybe with a bump on his head from the bucket.  He would cry.  Maybe Mrs. B. would visit your Mother and say what a mean boy we have.
Maybe it is better that I came back for my good hammer  and now I am wet."
He gripped Larry's shoulder rather hard.
"There are a lot of people in this world who will make you mad because they are slow or they are foolish.
You can't throw buckets of cold water on all of them!"
Father let go of Larry's arm.
"I will go in the house for a dry shirt and cap.  You will find my hammer and another one for yourself, eh?  If you are too big for little boy  games with Junior, I will keep you busy the rest of the week and Lizzie can help Mother. I think Junior needs to help his father or play somewhere else for a few days."
Larry nodded, bent to pick up the empty bucket.
He felt rather odd; working with Father until school started again next week was no real punishment.  He and Lizzie could still play their games after supper.  He was glad they wouldn't have to humor Junior for a few days, but he felt a bit deflated. He thought about the possibility of Mrs B. visiting Mother to defend her unhappy little  boy and was glad that wasn't going to happen.  He tried to imagine growing up with no brothers or sisters and gave up.
Father reappeared, settling a clean cap on his head.
"Father," said Larry, "I'm sorry I got you wet."
Father merely nodded.  "Come along then, you can learn to fix fences!"

My father, Larry, was 90 years old when he told this story.  It was the afternoon of my Mother's memorial service and we had reached that point in the reception lunch  when it was mostly family and close friends who were lingering.  Aunt Lizzie had stayed close to Larry, giving him the comfort of her affection. As they talked and nudged each others' memories I learned snippets of their childhood which had never before been shared.
I have taken narrative license in writing  this tale, for Larry couldn't recall just what episode had caused him to plan the water deluge to send Junior home for the day.  His remembered exasperation at having to play with Junior was plain and it was he who used the term "gullable" to describe Junior's personality as a child.
Like my parents, Junior [never known by his given name] married and lived out his life in the same small Vermont village.  He predeceased my father by 7 years.
I have shared this story in memory of Larry who was born on this date, 4 November, 1916.
My grandfather Stephen died in 1935, age 63, when Larry was in his late teens.
Larry's story of the misplaced soaking ended without a description of disciplinary measures.  He related ruefully that "father was not very pleased with me."   It is said of grandfather Stephen that he never raised his voice to his wife or children, so I have chosen to finish the tale with a rather mild "punishment."


  1. How charmingly you have told the family tale, and how wonderful that you were able to pick up these little snippets and stow them away.

    I have a delightful one of my dad and his best buddy setting a field alight when they were trying to flush out lizards!

  2. I enjoyed that so much!thankyou for sharing MM x
    GTM x x

  3. what a beautifully written family reminiscence!

  4. What wonderful story. Larry`s father ( your Grandfather) sounds a wise and caring man in his response to the unwanted shower!