66: Orange Cheeks

66: Orange Cheeks

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Orange Cheeks

Willie was six years old. He lived in the country. The phone rang, and Willie picked it up. He had a habit of breathing into the phone instead of talking.

“Hello, Willie,” his grandmother’s voice said to the breathing.

“How’d you know it was me?”

“I just knew, Willie. Willie, I want you to spend the night.”

“Oh, Grandma! I’ll get Momma!”

His mother took the phone, talked a while and hung up.

“Willie,” his mother said, “I never let you spend the night at your grandmother’s because you get in trouble.”

“I won’t get in trouble,” Willie burbled. He shone with excitement so his mother spoke quietly, seriously, “I don’t want to get a call tonight and have to drive thirty miles to pick you up.”

“No troubllllllllle,” he said.

“I’ll tell you this: Your grandmother can be difficult late in the day,” she went on. “She can be a bit of a grump.”

“I’ll be good. I promise.”

“Well, if there’s any trouble you won’t go overnight again for a year. Go up and pack your bag.”

Willie had won. He ran upstairs and put six t-shirts and a toothbrush in his bag.

He and his mother drove all the way into Cambridge. Willie loved Cambridge because all the houses were squeezed together. They drove around Harvard Yard, down Trowbridge Street and took a left on Leonard Avenue. The houses were all wooden triple-deckers, and his grandmother lived at number nine. They parked and Willie ran up the outside stairs, pushed the outside door open and pressed the buzzer inside.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzttt! The door wouldn’t open until his grandmother pressed another buzzer from the inside. It made a click, then the door unlocked. It was magic. Willie pushed the door in and stood at the bottom of the stairs. The stairs were narrow and dark and filled with the wonderful smells of his grandmother’s house. He could have spent the whole weekend right here, but his grandmother was standing at the head of the stairs calling him.

“Come on up, Willie.”

“Here I come, Grandmaaaaaaa,” he sang out.

He rushed up to the top and his grandmother leaned down for a hug. He kissed her on those wrinkled, crinkled cheeks. He loved those cheeks, but never said anything about them.

“You’ll be in the guest room upstairs,” his grandmother said. “There’s a prize up there for you.”

“Thank you, Grandmaaaaa,” he said, hurrying up the stairs. His mother’s voice caught up with him, “You remember what I said, Willie.”

“Don’t worry. No troublllllle.”

When Willie ran into the guest room he saw his grandmother had done something wonderful. She had pasted six large silver stars to the ceiling. He loved those.

The prize lay on the table. Two pieces of orange paper, a small pair of scissors, glue and a sharp pencil. Willie took the scissors and cut two circles from the paper and put glue on the back of the circles. He pasted the circles to his cheeks. Now he had orange cheeks.

Looking out the window he saw his mother driving off. “Goodbye, Mommaaaaa,” he shouted with a victorious grin.

He ran downstairs and his grandmother said just the right thing: “Wonderful cheeks.”

“Thank you, Grandmaaa,” he smiled, jouncing his shoulders.

“We’ll have tea in the dining room, but first I’ll hang out wash and you’ll go on an errand to Mr. Murchison’s. You know him.”

“The fruit man.”

“Yes. He’s right next door. He’s expecting you. Get four pounds of bananas. Here’s a dollar. Do a good job.”

Willie went down the dark narrow stairs, the secret stairs, and on outside to the fruit store. He had never gone on an errand by himself before. He bravely stepped into the old-fashioned fruit store. Dark. The floor was dark and wooden and oily. Mr. Murchison stood there. He was older than the bananas. And he was curved like the bananas. “Hello, Willie,” he said in a long, dark voice. “Your grandmother told me you were coming. Nice to see you again.” He reached to the top of the banana rack. “I’ve got four pounds of bananas for you.”

Willie shook his head back and forth. “I don’t want those.”

“What’s the trouble?” Mr. Murchison asked.

“They’re rotten.”

“They’re not rotten,” moustached Murchison insisted, laughing. “They’re ripe. Best way to have ‘em.”

“I want the yellow ones,” Willie said.

Mr. Murchison replaced the bananas and took yellow ones from the rack. “Someday you’ll know better,” he growled.

“Think I know better now,” Willie replied.

Mr. Murchison seemed to be chewing something distasteful. “I like your cheeks,” he finally grunted.

Willie looked up, “I like your cheeks, too.”


Willie took the bananas to the backyard where his grandmother was hanging clothes on the line. “Good for you, Willie. You’re a regular businessman. You go up and play till I finish, and we’ll have tea.”

Willie was a businessman! To him a businessman was someone who made pencil marks on the walls. Secret ones. But they were real. Willie went up and down the back stairway making small pencil marks. Then he decided to make a secret mark in the dining room.

He pushed a chair against the white wall in the dining room, stood on the chair, reached way up and started to make a tiny dot. Willie heard something. Terrified, he turned, “Grandma!” In his panic he made a scratch mark two feet long on the wall. “Oh, no. I have to go home now.” He tried to erase it, but that made it worse. He spat on his hands and tried to wipe the mark off. Now it was all over the wall. It was horrible. Now he was in trouble. He jumped off the chair and ran to the window. His grandmother was hanging the last few socks. He had to do something or he’d have to go home. Willie opened the drawer in the pantry and saw a hammer and two nails. He took them into the dining room. He pulled the dining room cloth off the table and climbed onto the chair. He nailed the cloth to the wall. Now you couldn’t see the scratch mark — but you could see the dining room cloth.

His grandmother made the tea and put everything on a tray.

“Come on, Willie. We’ll have tea in the dining room.”

His head seemed to be sinking into his shoulders. “Let’s have the tea here,” he said.

“We always have tea in the dining room,” she said and went into the dining room alone.

“Willie, the dining room cloth is not on the table,” she said curiously. Then, “Willie, the dining room cloth is nailed to the wall.”

After a silence Willie said, “Which wall?”

“You come in and see which wall.”

Willie came slowly in. His head sank further into his shoulders. “Oh, that wall,” Willie said. “I nailed it to that wall.”

Suddenly, he began to shake. His whole body trembled, and he burst out crying. “Now I have to go home.” He was crying so hard the tears ran down onto his orange paper cheeks. He began to rub the cheeks, and the paper was shredding. That overwhelmed his grandmother. “Willie!” she said, rushing over, kneeling down to hold him. She was crying now, and her tears were falling onto his orange paper cheeks. She held him close, then breathed deeply, saying, “Willie, look at the two of us; this is absurd. It’s all right.”

“No, it isn’t,” Willie sobbed. “Now I have to go home. I can’t come for a whole year.”

“You don’t have to go home,” she said, standing and straightening her dress. “It’s perfectly all right.”

“No, it isn’t,” Willie persisted. “Momma says late in the day you’re a grump.”

His grandmother’s eyes opened rather wide. “Hmmmmm, she does, does she?” His grandmother’s lips pursed in thought for what seemed forever. “Well! I’ll tell you this, Willie, your mother’s no prize either.”

They sat down at the table. “Now we’ll have tea, and then we’ll take care of the wall. How many sugars, Willie?”


“One,” she corrected.

The tea seemed to calm his whole body.

His grandmother took the hammer and pulled out the nails. She put the cloth on the table, saying, “I’ll sew the holes up another time. For now we’ll put a bowl of fruit over one hole and flowers on the other. Your mother will never know.” Then his grandmother put putty in the nail holes, and she and Willie painted over the scratch mark.

In three hours, the paint was dry and the mark gone. “Now your mother won’t know about this,” she said with assurance. “It’s our secret.”

“She’ll know,” Willie pouted. “She always knows.”

“She’s my daughter. She won’t know.”

“She’s my mother. She’ll know!”

The next morning Willie was scared to death as his mother came up the dark, secret stairs. The three of them would have tea before leaving.

They sat at the dining table drinking tea. Willie was quiet as long as he could be. Finally, he looked at his mother and said, “Don’t pick the bowl of fruit up.”

“Why would I pick the bowl of fruit up?” she asked.

An extraordinary look of total innocence filled his face, “I don’t knoooow.”

Tea continued, and Willie was staring at the wall.

“What are you staring at?” his mother said.

“The wall,” Willie replied. “It’s a nice wall.”

“Ahh!” his mother sighed. “There was trouble. What was the trouble?”

Defeated, Willie said, “Tell the trouble, Grandma.”

“Well, there was trouble. The trouble was we didn’t have enough time. Is that what you mean, Willie?”

“That’s what I mean,” he bounced.

A few minutes later his grandmother stooped over at the top of the stairs, and Willie kissed her on those wrinkled, crinkled cheeks. And then he and his mother went down the dark, narrow stairway with the wonderful smells. His mother didn’t know what had happened. It was a secret.

When he got home Willie ran up to his room, unzipped his bag and took out the orange paper. He cut two circles and put them in an envelope with a note saying, “Dear Grandma. Here’s orange cheeks for you. Love, Willie.”

~Jay O’Callahan
Chicken Soup for the Grandparent’s Soul

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