Lester and his mother were in their backyard, raking leaves. Actually, Lester’s mother was raking leaves. Lester was leaning on his rake.
“Lester,” Mother said as she continued to add leaves to her large leaf pile, “when I was a little girl—”
“I know, I know—don’t tell me, Mother.” Lester loved to tease his mother. “When you were a little girl, you didn’t have three maple trees in your backyard—you had three thousand, so there were zillions of leaves all over the place. But you never stopped raking. Not even for a minute. Not even if it started to rain. Nope, you didn’t stop until every single leaf was in your pile.”
Lester’s mother smiled. “Three thousand maple trees! Goodness, Lester, I didn’t grow up in the woods! No, what I was going to tell you was that when I was a little girl, I used to love jumping into leaf piles.”
“What? Didn’t that mess the leaf piles up?”
“Well, I suppose it did,” Mother said. “But it was sure a lot of fun!”
“Fun?” Was this the same mother who ordered him to stay away from mud puddles and who wouldn’t let him bring worms into the house? Was she teasing him?
“Yes, fun. Why don’t you give it a try?”
“All right.” Lester shrugged, trotted over to his mother’s leaf pile, and took a half-hearted leap.
Scrunch! Crackle! Crunch! The leaf pile had become a king-size, autumn-scented pillow!
Lester giggled. His mother was right. Jumping into leaf piles was a lot of fun. In fact, it was so much fun that Lester kept jumping, and jumping, and jumping, until Mother, who’d jumped in a couple of times herself, stopped and said, “Say, Lester, when I was a little girl—”
“I know, I know—don’t tell me, Mother. When you were a little girl, the instant your mother told you to stop jumping into the leaf pile, you picked up your rake and started raking all over again. And you never stopped. Not even for a second. Not even when a hurricane blew through and you had to chase your leaves all over town. Nope, you didn’t stop until you were absolutely sure that every single one of those leaves was in your pile.”
Lester’s mother smiled. “A hurricane! Goodness, Lester, I didn’t grow up on the coast! No, what I was going to tell you was that when I was a little girl, I used to love making leaf houses.”
“What?” Lester scratched his head. “Didn’t that mess the leaf piles up?”
Lester’s mother laughed. “Well, I suppose it did,” she said. “But it was sure a lot of fun!”
“Fun?” Where in the world was the mother who scolded him for playing with his food, the one who nearly hit the ceiling the last time he tried out one of his original cake recipes? Why, she hadn’t even let him put his mustard-marshmallow delight into the oven! She must be teasing him!
“Yes, fun. Watch.”
Then, as Lester looked on in amazement, Mother began to rearrange her leaf pile. Before he knew it, the leaf pile had completely vanished, and his mother was standing in the center of four leaf-walls. Oh, the walls were no more than a foot high and a foot wide, but Mother seemed satisfied. “Well, Lester,” she asked, “what do you think of the house?”
“Hmmmm,” Lester said. “I’ve never seen a leaf house before, so I suppose it’s OK. Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Why, how thoughtless of me!” Mother quickly raked an opening in the wall closest to Lester. “I thought someone was at the front door,” she declared, smiling. “Won’t you come in?”
“Thank you.” Lester entered the leaf house.
“Could I offer you something to drink?”
“Oh, yes,” Lester said. “I’d love a chocolate milk shake. But where are you going to make it? I don’t see a kitchen.”
“A kitchen!” Mother said. “Why, Lester, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have a kitchen. Would you like to help me make one?”
Lester raced out the front door of the leaf house and grabbed his rake. Then he and Mother began to add on to the leaf house. They raked a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a front porch, and a back door.
The leaf house sprawled across the entire backyard. Lester had never raked so hard or so long in his life. “This is really some kind of place!” he said as he drank his imaginary milk shake. “Don’t you think so, Mother?”
“Lester, Lester,” replied his mother, who was leaning on her rake, “did I ever tell you that when I was a little girl—”
“I know, I know—don’t tell me, Mother. When you were a little girl, right after you finished building your leaf house, you started tearing it down. You had to, because in your heart you knew that those leaves didn’t belong all over your yard. They belonged in a nice, neat pile. So once again you began to rake. And you raked, and you raked, and you raked. You never stopped. Not even when it was after midnight and the worst blizzard of all time howled into your town, and two hundred polar bears wandered into your backyard and started fooling around with your leaves and you had to tell them to cut it out, because there was no way you were going to let perfect strangers mess things up, and the polar bears started blubbering, but you didn’t give a hoot, you just told them to scram and kept right on raking until every single leaf was in your pile.”
Lester was out of breath.
Mother smiled. “Two hundred polar bears! Goodness, Lester, I didn’t grow up that close to the North Pole! No, what I was going to tell you was that when I was a little girl and it started to get dark and I started to get hungry, I’d rake shut the front door of my leaf house and head for the backdoor of my brick house.”
“You’d just leave your leaf house?” Lester said, his eyes as big as full moons.
“Yes—I always liked to play in my leaf house the next day.”
“Well, of course,” Mother said, “there was that one year when the strongest winds ever to blow across the face of the earth carried off one of my leaf houses while I was sound asleep. I couldn’t find a trace of it the next morning, even though I looked everywhere. But,” she chuckled, “other than that time, I always enjoyed playing in my leaf house the following day.”
Lester grinned. “You know, Mother, I think that I might have liked playing with you when you were little.”
“Why, thank you, Lester.”
Lester and Mother shut the front door of their leaf house, put their rakes away, and walked in the back door of their other house, where their dinner just happened to be in the oven.