Benjamin’s cowboy boots clattered on the metal stairs as he hurried to get the evening papers. He liked being old enough to go down three flights of stairs all alone. Sometimes he stopped at the second floor window to check things out—even in the city there were cattle rustlers to shoot! But he’d forgotten his holster and gun today, so he didn’t stop.
As he reached the lobby of the building and picked up the newspaper for his family, he remembered Mrs. Peabody. He had to get her newspaper too. She was the cranky old lady who lived in the apartment next to his. Ben knew she would shout at him and slam the door in his face when he delivered the newspaper to her. He couldn’t understand why she was so grumpy and rude. He was just trying to help her. His mom had explained that it was sometimes difficult for Mrs. Peabody to go up and down the stairs.
Ben hoped that today would be different. But it wasn’t. When his boots touched the last step, he heard Mrs. Peabody’s door swish open. “Why are you dawdling?” she grouched, grabbing the newspaper.
As Ben opened his mouth to answer, BAM! the door slammed. He trudged on to his apartment and shrugged his shoulders.
“How’d it go?” Mom asked.
“About the same.”
Mom looked at him for a moment. “I have an idea.”
“Can I shoot my loudest cap pistol at her?” Ben asked hopefully.
“No,” Mom said with a smile. “I want you to try what works in our family whenever someone is grumpy or sad.”
Ben thought for a minute, then fell back against the sofa as if he’d been thrown from a horse. “Not a hug!” he wailed.
“Hush! Yes, a hug. Give her a hug every day for one week. A hug is something that anyone can give, and I suspect Mrs. Peabody is someone who really needs it. Will you try it for me?”
“OK, Mom, but I won’t like it,” grumbled Ben.
“Well, even the best jobs have parts that we don’t like. Remember, you picked this job instead of taking out the garbage. Now go wash your hands for dinner.”
Ben trudged to the bathroom, thinking that taking out smelly garbage might be better than hugging a grumpy old lady. He’d try the hug business for one week, but no longer!
The next day Ben checked the hallway for outlaws, ran down the stairs, got the two newspapers, and was outside Mrs. Peabody’s door before she jerked it open.
“Well?” she boomed as she snatched the paper. Ben gulped, reached out, and quickly hugged her. An astonished look passed over Mrs. Peabody’s face. Her mouth moved but no sound came out. She quickly stepped back inside and slammed the door.
Six more days, thought Ben. This is going to be a long week.
Days two and three were pretty much the same. Ben got the newspapers and delivered one, along with a hug, to Mrs. Peabody, who would peer at him suspiciously as she retreated into her apartment and slammed the door.
On the fourth day the old lady snapped, “What’s your name again?”
“Benjamin,” he replied.
“Well, Benjamin, why have you been grabbing me?” she demanded.
“I’m not grabbing you. I’m giving you a hug.”
“All right, why have you been hugging me?”
“Because I have to.”
“What do you mean?”
“A hug is a gift we give in our family when someone needs it, and my mom said you really need it.”
“Well, I never … !” muttered Mrs. Peabody, and she went back inside.
Funny, Ben thought, she didn’t slam the door today.
The next day Ben had a surprise. Mrs. Peabody handed him a piece of candy. After he thanked her for it, Mrs. Peabody grumbled, “Oh, its nothing but leftover candy from the holidays. Go on home.” But when she shut the door, Ben thought he saw the trace of a smile.
On the last day of the hugs, Mrs. Peabody gave him two candy bars. Ben smiled at her and said, “Thank you very much. These look great.”
“I bought them especially for my newspaper boy,” she said. “Have one now, and keep one for later.”
Ben smiled again, hugged her, and started down the hall. Then he turned around and went back. Mrs. Peabody’s door was already closed, so Ben knocked softly.
When the door swung open, he asked, “Mrs. Peabody, do you have a pocket?”
“Yes, I do, Benjamin, right here in my apron. Why?”
Ben didn’t answer her. He pretended to hug someone, then scooped his hands into her apron pocket. “That’s an extra hug,” he explained. “It’s sort of like the candy. Keep it for later when you need one.”
He turned quickly on the heels of his boots and walked down the hall. I guess Mom was right, he thought. Hugging Mrs. Peabody was hard at first, but it got easier, and she got nicer. He decided that he had chosen the right job too. It would have been really hard to hug the garbage!