“Noooooo!” Andy watched in horror as his baseball sailed over the fence. His little brother giggled with delight at what he had just accomplished. Andy choked back the hurtful words that were rising in his throat. Billy was only three. He didn’t know any better. At eight, Andy was the older and wiser brother, and it was his job to look out for him. He looked at Billy sternly.
“You stay here. I’ll be right back.”
Nervously, Andy made his way around the fence to the house next door. They had only moved into the neighborhood a few weeks ago, but he had been around long enough to hear all the stories. His neighbor, Mrs. Thatcher, was an evil witch. Still, he had to get his baseball back. Hands trembling, he reached up for the big brass knocker.
As the door opened, Mrs. Thatcher snapped “What do you want? Why are you kids always bothering me?”
With a shaky voice, Andy answered her. “Mrs. Thatcher, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Andy and I live next door. My little brother threw my baseball into your yard and…”
The old woman interrupted. "You’re bothering me about a stupid ball? Get out of here!” She started to close the door in his face.
“But my dad gave me that ball right before he died.” Andy stared at the closed door, wiping a tear from his eye.
Slowly, the door opened. “I’m sorry son, I didn’t know.”
Andy stared. Mrs. Thatcher’s face changed completely. She no longer looked threatening, only sad.
“I know what it’s like,” she told him. “I lost my husband a few years ago. Now I’m all alone. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I just thought your friends put you up to it, to see if you would be brave enough to talk to the crazy old witch lady.”
“Nobody thinks that about you, Mrs. Thatcher,” Andy protested.
“That’s nice of you to say, but I’ve heard what people say about me.”
“It’s just that everyone is afraid of you because you yell at them when they go in your yard.”
“Come here, Andy. Let me show you something.” Mrs. Thatcher slowly made her way across the yard, beckoning for Andy to follow.
“Your baseball is special to you because it’s what you have left from your dad, right?”
Andy nodded. She led him over to a row of perfectly pruned rosebushes.
“See these roses? This is what I have left from my husband. He spent hours out here growing them, pruning them, fertilizing them. When kids come in my yard, they trample through them. I just want to keep them safe.”
Andy looked into the old woman’s face. She wasn’t much different than he was. She was just a lonely old lady who wanted to keep safe what was important to her. He remembered what his dad had told him once. “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” He thought he knew what that meant now. No longer was he afraid of his neighbor. He reached out his arm to her.
“Mrs. Thatcher, my mom just made a batch of cookies. Would you like to come over and have some with my family?”
Smiling, Mrs. Thatcher took his arm and he led her to his house.
The following Saturday, Andy and Billy and the rest of the neighborhood kids were enjoying a friendly game of kickball. The game came to a halt when Brian kicked the ball foul and it soared over the fence.
Pale-faced, Brian apologized to Andy. “I’m so sorry I lost your ball.”
Andy could only think of the rosebushes. He rushed to the fence to make sure everything was ok, when all of a sudden, the ball came sailing back over the fence. A few moments later, the shuffling form of Mrs. Thatcher appeared.
“Nice kick! You almost got me, but I was too fast for it!”
The kids all just stared at her, not sure what to think.
“Thanks, Mrs. Thatcher!” Andy grinned. “Want to play?”
“Oh, I think I’ll leave that to you young people. I do have some fresh lemonade, if anyone would like some.”
Beaming, Andy led the way, and soon Mrs. Thatcher’s front porch was filled with smiling and chattering children. From that day on, no one was afraid of Mrs. Thatcher again, all because one brave boy cared enough to see what lay underneath.
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