Gram’s Surprise Attack

By Shirley Rawlins

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    “Sarah Jeffreys!”

    Gram’s sudden calling of my name made me jump.

    “You’ve been sitting at that window for a half hour. A watched pot never boils, you know. Now get up from there and make yourself useful.”

    Gram had that merry look in her eyes, and she winked at me, so I just grinned and kept looking out the window. I knew that she was anxious too. Gramps had left early that morning for the two-hour wagon trip to town. I figured it would take another two hours to pick up the supplies and hear the latest gossip, then two hours back. He should be coming around the bend any minute.

    Then, as if I had willed it, there he was. “Gram, he’s here! He’s here!” I leapt off the window seat and was out the door before Gram had time to lay down the ladle she had been stirring the stew with.

    “Sarah, you be careful,” she called.

    But I was already down the steps, across the yard, and halfway to the wagon. Gramps grinned and waved as I turned and ran alongside the slow-clopping horses.

    “Did you get them, Gramps?” I shouted. But I knew he couldn’t hear me above the clatter of the wagon, so I had to be content to simply run with the team.

    Gram stood patiently on the porch, shading her eyes against the hot sun while Gramps unhitched the team, but finally even she couldn’t stand it any longer. “Robert Jeffreys, are you going to keep me in suspense all day? Did you get them or didn’t you?”

    Gramps stepped up onto the porch and went into the house. “I got them, Violet,” he said, “and they’re the prettiest things you ever saw.” From his knapsack he took a small wooden box and laid it on the kitchen table. I leaned forward, eager to see.

    Gram lifted the lid, and there, cradled on some soft cloth, sat a gleaming set of ordered-through-the-catalogue false teeth. Gram was short and kind of round and hadn’t had any teeth for as long as I could remember. I thought she looked just fine, but she always said her face looked like an old shrunken apple since her teeth went. It had taken her two and a half years to save enough milk-and-egg money to buy the $12.99 dentures.

    “Aren’t you going to try them out?” I asked.

    Gram’s face went kind of pink, but she carefully picked them up and took them to the washbasin. She ladled some water over them, then polished them dry with the soft cloth from the box. Gram turned and looked hard at us. “I can’t do it with you two watching me like cats hanging over a saucer of milk!”

    Gramps and I grinned at each other and turned our backs. When we heard a muffled “OK,” we turned around again. I couldn’t believe the difference. Her lips stuck out smoothlike instead of sinking in the way they had before. She looked different—prettier somehow.

    “Well?” she asked, looking at us.

    Gramps took two giant steps and grasped her shoulders. “You look like a world of pretty,” he pronounced, “but then you always do.”

    Gram turned as red as any young girl.

    While Gramps washed up for supper, he told us all the happenings from town—new families moving in, new babies, weddings, and crop prices. Then he said, “Ned Wilson saw signs of Indians up past Elliott’s place.”

    Now that was news! “Indians!” I shouted. “Do you think they’ll be peaceful?”

    Gramps just smiled. “Yes, Sarah, the Indians around here are pretty friendly. They’re just passing through on their way to winter quarters, so I don’t expect any trouble. Once in a while one or two will do some mischief, but they’re usually pretty quiet.”

    Gram used her new teeth for the first time on the hot and bubbly stew that she had made. She had always mashed everything that she ate, but today she spooned the potatoes and vegetables into her mouth and chewed them gingerly. Then, when she bit into a chunk of her oven-hot bread and tried to pull the bread away, her top teeth came with it and plopped right into her bowl of stew!

    There was a long minute of silence as Gram stared down at the bread soaking up the stew, teeth perched proudly on top. Suddenly she started laughing, and soon all three of us had tears of laughter streaming down our faces. “I think they’re a mite big,” Gram said when she could catch her breath.

    The teeth were too big. They made clicking noises and slipped when she talked, and sometimes she had to clap her hand over her mouth to keep them from falling out. But she was determined to wear them.

    A couple of weeks later Gramps came in early one evening and said, “The Simmons boy rode by today to ask if I could come over to their place to help with a barn raising.”

    Gram looked up from her sewing. “How long do you expect to be gone?”

    “Can’t really tell, but I’d guess two days at the most.”

    So Gramps was off at daybreak, and Gram and I settled into running the place without him for a couple of days. It wasn’t much trouble feeding the animals and doing the milking and the general work about the farm, but I always missed Gramps when he was gone, and I could tell that Gram did too. She never had that sprightliness in her walk when he was away.

    I had just finished the evening milking and was helping Gram scrub some potatoes for supper when we heard the door latch lift. I remember thinking that Gramps had sure made it back fast. But when I turned, my shout of welcome choked off in my throat …

    An Indian, not Gramps, stood in the doorway. Gramps had said that the Indians were friendly, but this one didn’t look friendly. He had a scowl on his face, and he was pointing a rifle right at us! Looking around the room, his eyes rested on the chicken browning on the spit. He stepped farther into the room, and I felt Gram stiffen beside me. The Indian pointed to the chicken, then to his mouth and back to the chicken. He mumbled something that I couldn’t understand.

    Gram and I just stood there, and I don’t mind admitting that I was scared to death. The Indian kept on pointing to the chicken behind us and to his mouth. Then I guess he got fed up with us standing there like a pair of statutes, because before I knew what was happening, he grabbed me by the back of the neck and flung me out of his way.

    That did it! Gram snapped to life, eyes sparkling and teeth bared. Shrieking, “Don’t you touch that girl!” she sprang forward. And as she did, both bottom and top teeth came flying out of her mouth and landed on the floor right at the Indian’s feet.

    Never have I seen such a look of astonishment on anyone’s face. That Indian stood stock-still and stared at those teeth lying as pretty as you please in the middle of the floor. He looked up at Gram, who had skidded to a halt, hands clapped to her mouth; then he looked back at the teeth.

    Suddenly, with a screech loud enough to raise the hair on my neck, the Indian turned and practically flew out the door. He was still running by the time I had picked myself up.

    I watched him through the window. “You did it, Gram!” I shouted. “Those teeth of yours scared him clean away.” I turned to look at Gram.

    Gram had the teeth in her hand and a sad smile on her face. “They’re broken,” she said finally.

    I went over, and sure enough, there was a wide crack across the top set of teeth. “Gram, I’m sorry,” I said.

    But Gram laughed. “They never did fit proper, anyway,” she said. “They rubbed when I ate, and made my gums sore.” She laid them on the mantel. “I had to wear them, after all I paid for them, but now I won’t have to.”

    As long as Gram lived, the teeth stayed on that mantel as a reminder of her surprise attack on the Indian.

    Illustrated by Paul Mann