The Peterson girls get caught in Mr. Crump's strawberry patch.
|“You aren't the boss of me!”
Maddie Peterson stood defiantly, hands on hips, glaring at her older sister with a five-year old’s stubborn conviction. Adorable blonde curls and angelic blue eyes gave little indication of her willful nature.
“But Maddie,” pleaded Emma. “Mama said to stay in our own yard. We’re not supposed to go into Mr. Grumps' garden.”
‘Mr. Grumps’ was what they called Thomas Crump, whose property line backed up to theirs. The Petersons had recently moved into a big, new house at the edge of town, and Crump’s Strawberry Farm was just outside the city limits. Part of his 40-acre truck farm had been annexed for the new development, and the crotchety farmer hadn’t welcomed his loss of property or the intrusion of new neighbors. His wife had passed away shortly after the new houses went in, and he seldom had visitors. Consensus in the neighborhood was that he preferred to be alone and was best avoided.
“Mamas not home, and I’m gonna eat strawberries,” Maddie declared, heading toward a kid-sized gap in the back fence. Emma ran ahead, trying to think of a way to distract her little sister.
Emma and Maddie had found the delicious strawberries almost as soon as they moved in, and they became even worse pests than the sparrows. Old Mr. Grumps called them ‘varmints’ and chased them back into their own yard, but the two mischievous sisters couldn’t resist raiding those delicious berries.
Their father had gotten tired of Mr. Crumps’ complaints and had given up scolding Emma and Maddie. He’d finally built a solid wooden fence around their back yard to keep the peace. It was mostly successful, but he’d accidentally left one loose board in the corner. The girls had discovered that it could be wiggled aside just enough to provide space for a skinny kid to squeeze through.
The girls had kept the loose board a secret, and only snuck through the fence to get strawberries when they were sure nobody was looking. Today, the ten-year old Emma was torn between the sweet strawberries and her desire to show Mama that she could be a responsible babysitter.
“What if Mr. Grumps sees you?” Emma asked half-heartedly, trying to keep her sister from leaving the yard. She wanted to be responsible, but if Maddie went in, then Emma would have to follow, and then they could both eat berries.
“I don’t care, I want strawberries now!”
Maddie ducked around the indecisive Emma and pushed through the fence gap. She’d developed a real craving for those sweet, red berries, and couldn’t wait to get more.
“Hah, gotcha!” cried Mr. Grumps triumphantly, as he grabbed Maddie by the straps of her denim jumper. She hadn’t seen Mr. Grumps waiting by the hole in the fence. He’d been weeding the strawberry patch and had heard everything.
Maddie kicked and screamed in terror as he carried her toward his big, white farmhouse. Sixty years of fieldwork had given him an iron grip that no five-year-old could hope to break. The loamy scent of the strawberry patch clung to Mr. Grumps’ overalls and tickled Maddie’s nose as she dangled in the air. Unfamiliar odors of pipe tobacco and sweat only reinforced the strangeness. This didn’t feel at all like the pretend-angry games Maddie and Emma played with Dad.
Emma squirmed frantically through the fence and watched in shock as old Mr. Grumps carried her sister away. She could only imagine the dire fate that might be awaiting her in the farmhouse. Mr. Grumps paused and called back to Emma before he carried Maddie up the steps and out of sight.
“If ya want yer sister, then come and get ‘er! You’ll get what she’s gettin’!”
Emma screwed up her courage and followed. She knew it was all up to her. Dad was at work, and she’d been told to watch Maddie while Mama went to the store ‘for just a minute’. She’d failed to keep Maddie safe, and she had to make it right. Emma resolved to be brave. She’d take a whipping, if necessary, to save her sister from Mr. Grumps’ clutches.
Emma paused at the bottom of the worn, wooden steps and took a gasping breath before forcing herself to climb. Her legs felt weak, her heart was pounding, and she felt cold sweat on her forehead, despite the dry summer heat. She tiptoed slowly past the stacked strawberry flats on the wide back porch. The silent farmhouse loomed creepy and ominous in front of her. Panic threatened to overwhelm trembling courage.
The door stood half-open and Emma peeked cautiously into a surprisingly bright and tidy kitchen. Maddie sat happily at a big oak table, kicking her feet and shoveling ripe, red strawberries into her mouth from a blue crockery bowl.
“You fool kids oughta know that you don’t eat strawberries without cream ‘n sugar,” grinned old Mr. Grumps.
Author's note: ▼