Stubby and the Orange-Haired Aunt

By Lael J. Littke

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    When Mother told me her Aunt Grace was coming for a visit, I groaned. “Not again!” I complained, remembering her visit last year.

    “Be nice, William,” Mother said. “Once a year isn’t very often.”

    “It’s too often for me!” I declared.

    Aunt Grace has orange hair and headaches. All she ever says to me is, “William, must you make so much noise?”

    “William,” Mother warned, “I want you to behave yourself when she comes.”

    I promised to behave myself.

    When Aunt Grace came, I went to the door to meet her. My dog, Stubby, went with me. He growled at Aunt Grace because I hadn’t had him very long, and he didn’t know who she was.

    Aunt Grace took a step backward. She looked as if she might turn around and go home.

    “Oh, dear!” she cried. “Does that beast bite?”

    I nodded my head. Stubby isn’t very big, but he sounds mean. For just a moment I thought I’d let her think that he bites people. Then I decided I’d better tell the truth. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “He only bites cats. Stubby hates cats.”

    Aunt Grace looked huffy. “Well, he shouldn’t bite cats!”

    I remembered then that Aunt Grace had a cat, and I wondered what I should say next. This visit wasn’t getting off to a very good start. But I didn’t have to say anything because just then Mother came hurrying to the door. “Come in, Aunt Grace, come in,” she said. “We’re so glad to see you.” She leaned close to me and whispered, “Take Stubby into the kitchen right now!

    She acted as if I had let him growl at Aunt Grace on purpose. I wondered if I had.

    I took Stubby into the kitchen and shut the door so he would stay there. When I went into the living room, Aunt Grace had calmed down. She looked at Mother and said, “My, my, Lucille, it looks as though we’re getting a few gray hairs, doesn’t it?”

    What she meant was that Mother was getting a few gray hairs. Aunt Grace patted her own thick orange hair so we would notice that she didn’t have any gray hairs.

    For a moment Mother looked as if she would like to growl like Stubby. But she smiled instead. “Let’s put your suitcase in the bedroom. Then we’ll sit down and talk.”

    I followed them into the bedroom, then back to the living room where we all sat down. I behaved myself.

    “How are you, Aunt Grace?” Mother asked.

    “Well, my head still aches a lot.”

    “That’s too bad,” Mother said. “What does the doctor say about it?”

    Stubby began yelping in the kitchen. He didn’t like to be shut up there alone.

    “Oh, my!” Aunt Grace exclaimed. “Does that dog have to make so much noise?”

    “Excuse me,” I said, standing up. “I’ll go see what’s the matter with him.” I didn’t want to hear what the doctor said about Aunt Grace’s headaches anyway.

    When I got to the kitchen, Stubby was at the back door, barking furiously. Outside, the neighbor’s big orange cat was sniffing around our garbage can. Sometimes he tips it over. I wanted to get that cat away from it, so I opened the door. “Get him, Stubby!” I commanded.

    Stubby shot out after the cat. The only trouble was, the cat ran right through the open door and into our house, with Stubby right behind him. The cat streaked into the living room and dived under the sofa where Aunt Grace was sitting.

    “What was that?” Aunt Grace shouted. She leaned over to see what had run past her feet. Poor Stubby was confused because her hair was about the same color as the cat’s fur. He snapped his jaws shut, and Aunt Grace’s hair came right off her head!

    Stubby thought he had the cat in his teeth, and he didn’t know what to do with it. When the “cat” in his mouth didn’t move, he dropped it, backed off a few steps, and started barking at it.

    Mother leaped to her feet, looking as though she might faint.

    “Did Stubby scalp Aunt Grace?” I whispered.

    Aunt Grace really did look scalped—but not completely. Her head was covered with very short gray hair. She tried to shrink her head down into the neck of her dress, like a turtle.

    That beautiful orange hair she was so proud of was a wig!

    Suddenly I was ashamed of myself. I think I’d hoped the cat would run into the house when I opened the door. I guess I’d wanted to scare Aunt Grace. Instead I’d embarrassed her. Without her wig on, she looked kind of shrunken and wrinkled and old.

    I ran over to where Stubby was barking at the wig. “I’m sorry, Aunt Grace. I’ll get it for you.” I picked up the wig, but when I did, Stubby grabbed it again. He sank his teeth into it and pulled. He growled when I tried to yank it away from him. Then he shook his head from side to side.

    “Oh, my!” Mother agonized.

    Now she really did look as though she might faint. I didn’t dare look at Aunt Grace again. Then all of a sudden, I heard her laughing. It really caught me off guard. Somehow, I didn’t think Aunt Grace laughed at anything. But she was laughing now as though she’d never stop. She laughed so hard she had to wipe her eyes with a lace handkerchief she had pinned to her dress.

    “Oh, dear,” she gasped finally. “I’ve never seen anything so funny in all my born days!”

    “But your nice wig, Aunt Grace,” I said, dumbfounded. “Stubby’s ruined it!”

    Aunt Grace slapped at the air with one hand. “Let him have it, William. I’m sure that thing is what makes my head ache. Maybe it’s time I gave it up anyway.”

    “I’m really sorry, Aunt Grace,” I said again. “I hope you’ll still stay and visit with us for a while.”

    “I want to, William,” she replied, smoothing her stubby hair as best she could. “You know what? Right now I feel like having an ice-cream cone. Why don’t you and I walk down to the store and get one? Maybe we can talk about how to teach that dog of yours some manners.”

    It’s funny, I thought, how wrong you can be about people sometimes.

    “Let’s go!” I said, offering her my arm and really behaving myself.

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn