Grady Grimshaw was always grumbling. He grumbled when Mom served her latest creation for dinner: barbecued tuna pizzawiches. He grumbled when Dad told him to make his bed. He grumbled when his little sister tied bows on his fierce stuffed gorilla. And he grumbled when he walked Pepper, the dog, and she had to stop and sniff at every bush and mailbox.
Grady was always grumbling.
One sunny day while Grady was dutifully walking Pepper, he passed the house of Mrs. Sherman, who was outside weeding her rose garden. “Hello there, Grady,” she called to him, pushing back her floppy sun hat. “Lovely day, isn’t it? Would you like to take a rose home to your mother?”
“Roses make me sneeze,” Grady said, walking on.
As he neared the Cooper home, he saw Mr. Cooper fixing his lawn mower. “Hi, Grady,” Mr. Cooper said. “Nice dog you have there.”
“She has fleas,” Grady said, not stopping for a second.
Then he came to the Parnell house. On the porch, asleep in a chair, was a tiny woman he had never met. Her white hair was pulled into a tight little knot at the top of her head, and she wore a big plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Every breath she took ended in a high-pitched whistle.
Grady wished he could whistle like that.
The woman suddenly opened one eye. “What are you staring at?” she demanded crossly.
Grady jumped. “I—I’ve never seen you before.”
“Well, I’ve never seen you before, but I’m not standing around gawking, am I?”
The woman closed her eyes again. Grady hesitated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
The woman’s eyes flew open, “Goodness, child, are you still there? What is it you want?”
“Aren’t you going to tell me what a nice day it is—or that you like my dog?”
The woman peered up at the sky. “Clouds. It’ll probably rain. And I don’t like dogs. They stink.”
“Pepper doesn’t stink,” Grady said defensively, “at least, not unless you get real close.” He plunked himself down on the porch step. This was not at all the way most adults he knew acted.
The woman sighed. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Grady Grimshaw.” He pointed. “I live down there, in that brown house.”
The woman raised herself up a little. “That corner house? How dreadful! I lived on a corner once. All the neighborhood kids trekked through the yard on their way to school and killed the grass and dropped things. Had to put up a big old ugly fence.”
“I like living on the corner. I get to live on two streets instead of just one.”
“Well, I’d rather live on my own one street, thank you very much,” the woman said. She reached for a glass of water on a nearby TV tray.
“What’s your name?” Grady asked as he handed her the glass.
“Dinah. Dinah Parnell. Only I’m never in the kitchen, and I don’t know any banjo players, so don’t sing that old song at me.”
“I won’t.” Grady felt Pepper tugging impatiently on her leash. “I guess I’d better go,” he said, standing up.
“Yes, I guess you’d better.” Mrs. Parnell closed her eyes. “But you can come back sometime, if you want.”
Grady was thoughtful as he and Pepper headed for home. Mrs. Parnell sure was different from most other ladies he knew.
Mom was putting the finishing touches on a sardine and broccoli casserole, and Grady got out the plates to set the table without even thinking about grumbling. “Mom, have you met that Mrs. Parnell lady?”
“Yes, I have. Did you meet her just now?”
He nodded again. “She doesn’t seem very happy.”
“Well, she’s not, really,” Mom said, putting the casserole into the microwave. “She’s Mr. Parnell’s mother, and she’ll be staying there awhile because she isn’t well. I think it’s hard for her to be away from her home. She’s lonely.”
“She sure grumbles a lot.”
“I think she could use a friend.”
Grady thought about that for a moment. His face brightened. “Would you help me make some brownies tomorrow after school so I could take some over to her?”
“Of course—that would be nice, Grady.” Mom smiled. “Here, would you stir this orange juice for me, please?”
Grady took the pitcher and was so busy thinking about Mrs. Parnell that he didn’t grumble this time, either.
The next day, Grady took a plateful of warm brownies to Mrs. Parnell. She only managed a “Humph!” when he came up the porch steps, but she listened when he told her about the bee that had gotten loose in class that day, and she only grumbled about the rain and the price of tomatoes in the grocery store.
A few days later, Grady went to see her again. He told her about his bicycle accident, and she showed him the scar on her hand from when she had fallen off her horse many years ago. He complained about the boy at school who fell on the cupcake Grady’d taken in his lunch, and she told him about the girl in the third grade who used to call her “Curlilocks” in front of everybody, so she’d put a rubber snake in the girl’s book bag and the girl yelled and then they both started laughing and became good friends. This time Mrs. Parnell only grumbled about how her eyes didn’t work very well anymore. Grady got her favorite book from inside and read to her.
Grady liked visiting Mrs. Parnell. He started looking for other grumblers who needed to be cheered up, too, and pretty soon, he decided that instead of a grumbler, he would be a grinner. He grinned when Mom served oatmeal turkeyburgers for dinner. He grinned when Dad told him to put away his toy cars. He grinned when Pepper shook water all over him after her bath. And he grinned when his little sister pushed the two-million-piece puzzle he had been working on for three weeks off the table.
(Well, that last one wasn’t quite a grin—but it wasn’t a very loud grumble!)