From the Relief Society Magazine, February 1951 –
Miss Breech’s Boy
By Pansye H. Powell
A snowball flattened itself against the white clapboard of Miss Sally Breech’s house.
Miss Breech sighed exasperatedly. “Drat those boys,” she exclaimed – to no one in particular, since she lived alone, and there was no one to exclaim to.
She did not rise from her chair to investigate the origin of the missile. In the first place, she knew that the neighborhood boys, out of school for the Christmas holidays, were probably the instigators of the attack. She had been aware all day as she went about her cleaning that the street was alive with boys. They had played fox and hounds on the next door neighbor’s yard, and now they were holding a mimic battle in the street in front of her house. Even Butch, the little boy from next door, was out there, getting wet and probably “catching his death of cold,” as Miss Breech put it.
In the second place, Miss Breech was too tired to be chasing boys away. She was too tired to do much of anything. She had worked all day, cleaning her little house, which was perfectly clean when she started; but Miss Breech was a good housekeeper and would have thought herself remiss if she had not gone over her house thoroughly on this day before Christmas. She had swept and dusted and waxed and washed windows. Now she sat in her comfortable overstuffed chair, her feet placed on the ottoman, her weary head resting against the soft cushion.
There was more than physical weariness and exasperation with a bunch of exuberant boys in Miss Beech’s sigh. It was true that at sixty-five she could no longer do the work she once could; she had learned to rest frequently, but she was still much more energetic than many of the teachers who were still going to classes every day, while Miss Breech stayed home in the ranks of those recently retired. No, it was not physical weariness nor entirely her vexation at the neighborhood boys that made her sigh, as she sat relaxing after her day of housecleaning.
Miss Breech’s sigh came from something she would have scoffed at, had she known anyone was going to label it spiritual fatigue. “Rats,” she would have said, “I’ve nothing on my mind. Free as the birds – no school, no pupils to worry about, no Christmas program to prepare for the first time in forty years. Wonderful feeling, this!”
That is what she would have said, but that would have been camouflage. Deep down in her she knew that she was lonely and a little depressed. This was the first Christmas in forty years that she had not been busy every minute, decorating a tree, putting on it the little gifts brought her at school by her adoring third graders. Several times today she had thought of those gifts, awkwardly wrapped by the pupils themselves or daintily packaged by willing mothers. Though Miss Breech had never opened her gifts at school, she knew by long experience that the little square packages with small round ends were bottles of dime store perfume, usually gardenia; that the thin flat packages were handkerchiefs; and the long wide boxes were probably chocolates. She had always brought them all home from her room at school, placed them on or under the big tree, and opened them on Christmas morning, writing down each child’s name and gift so she could thank him personally. But this year she had no eager roomful of third graders; there would be no tree, for pension money didn’t stretch so far as that; no gardenia perfume would be stored away unopened.
All this Miss Breech had been thinking as she rested in her living room. It was an attractive room, neat and clean, not elaborately furnished but tastefully arranged with old walnut furniture that had been her grandmother’s, and brightened with chintz slipcovers and drapes that Miss Breech had made herself.
Miss Breech had always enjoyed her home and had never felt lonely in it before. Even though she had no near relatives to join her on Christmas Eve, always there had been school to keep her busy right up to the very night. But today she felt tired and lonely and depressed by the yelling voices outside, as the snow fight in front of her house waxed more lively.
She brushed her hands across wet eyes and then said to herself – she had developed the habit of talking out loud to herself only this winter: “This house looks peculiar without a tree. I really can’t remember a Christmas when I didn’t have a tree. I’ve bought forty trees and have seen them set up in my room at school. Anyway, those silver bells over the doors and windows do look pretty, and those holly wreaths are beautiful, with the big red ties on them. Christmas trees aren’t really necessary to a Christmas at all.”
Miss Breech jumped nervously as a snowball slithered over her veranda. But she did not rise from her resting position. She continued thinking aloud: “Does seem odd not to be getting a program ready. Guess that part’s all over by now. School let out yesterday. I ought to know. Those pesky boys on this street have been yelling and throwing snowballs all days. They’ve had Butch out there all day, teaching him how to make snowmen and to throw balls.
The thought of Butch irritated Miss Breech so much that she rose from her chair and went to the front window. Peering out through the clean shining surface of her recently washed window, she looked for a familiar little figure among the swarm of older boys in the front street. There he was – sturdy and independent – trying so hard to be big with the boys who were not his companions during school hours, since he was too young to be in school yet.
“He’s just getting too smart,” Miss Breech soliloquized. “Not good for little fellows to be around those older boys so much. No wonder he’s such a noisy child all the time.”
She watched the chubby little figure in the red woolen coat and cap and blue overalls scampering around, making snowballs, and delivering them to an older boy who promptly hurled them at his opponents in the fight. The scene was a lively one and would have provided amusement to an ordinary observer; but Miss Breech was no ordinary observer.
She had reason to look with disfavor on Butch. The family had moved next door to Miss Breech in June, and from the first day of his arrival Butch had made himself at home on Miss Breech’s lawn. He ran through her back yard, pursued by a yapping scraggly terrier. Neither of them regarded her zinnias and marigolds as more than pretty colored grass, a little nicer to step on than ordinary lawn covering. The terrier had a propensity for sleuthing in hedges, and Butch had no respect whatever for Miss Breech’s elaborately worked out borders. That first day, when she recovered from the surprise of their unannounced visit, she had stopped Butch in a peremptory manner as he ran wildly through the yard a second time in pursuit of an imaginary robber.
“Little boy,” she had said in her best school teacher manner, “I want you to be careful not to run over my flowers.”
He had paused momentarily in his mad flight, and the yapping terrier had yanked at his heels to prompt him to move on. Butch had looked up at Miss Breech with sparkling blue eyes from under a bemedaled beanie.
“Sure,” he had answered in a startlingly loud voice. “We’ll be careful. Come on, Chippy,” and away they had scampered lopping off a branch of a chrysanthemum plant as they rounded the corner of the house.
That was only the beginning. Numerous episodes followed. Most of them involved the terrier, which Butch stoutly defended from all attack. “Chippy is a good dog,” he would say. “He doesn’t know they are roses.”
Miss Breech would answer, “Butch, you will have to keep that dog off my yard, or I’ll have to tell your mother to put him on a chain.”
“Okay, I’ll tell him,” Butch promised, and Miss Breech later heard him doing just that.
“Now, Chippy,” he was saying, on the other side of the hedge between the two yards, “you will hafta stay out of Miss Breech’s flowers. You’ll hafta, do you hear?”
But Chippy was back before evening, chasing butterflies and beetles, regardless of Miss Breech’s protestations.
Finally she went to Butch’s mother, a warm, friendly person, much disturbed by Miss Breech’s disapproval of Butch and Chippy, and trying to curb the lively spirits of both offenders with small success.
“If you wish, Miss Breech,” she said on this occasion, “we’ll give Chippy away. We know he is causing you trouble, and Butch’s father and I have talked about what we could do about it.”
“Oh, no,” Miss Breech hastened to reply, “you mustn’t do anything like that. Butch is so fond of Chippy. It’s just that I’ve always been able to have a nice garden, and they do run across things without much consideration for what they may be doing.”
After this visit of Miss Breech, Butch and Chippy made fewer forays into her yard. Then had occurred the case of the missing galoshes.
Having come home rather late one rainy night, Miss Breech removed her galoshes and left them on the front porch. Usually she was very careful to leave nothing loose around the house, but tonight she had been late and ready to go to bed, so the galoshes were left outside. The next morning – no galoshes. Miss Breech looked everywhere; being a systematic person, she knew she had left her galoshes outside the door, but being also more absent-minded than formerly, she knew it could just be possible that they were somewhere in the house. But no galoshes could be found.
Later that day Miss Breech went out into her yard to do her daily stint with her flowers. Under the forsythia bush where she had recently freshly spaded the dirt before watering the lawn, she saw a suspicious hump in the soil. Just at that moment Chippy made a sortie into the yard, approached the hump of dirt, and sniffed reminiscently. As Miss Breech approached, he withdrew hastily to a safe distance.
Then she saw a bit of dark gray rubber protruding from the side of the hump. She jabbed her garden fork into the dirt and unearthed one galosh in a decidedly debilitated state. There were unmistakable signs that something had tried to masticate the galosh. Chippy was guilty on circumstantial evidence. Miss Breech saw red. She dashed at Chippy and managed to land on him one blow from the handle of her fork. Chippy departed, after giving an anguished howl, his tail between his legs.
Miss Breech went to Butch’s mother again, and from that time on the two malefactors were not seen in Miss Breech’s garden, except once in a great while when Butch, a naturally friendly child, would come over briefly to admire some flowers that particularly caught his eye. On these occasions Miss Breech now and then gave him some flowers to take home with him, and so a kind of peace had been established; but it was an armed truce liable to break out into open warfare at any time. What the family did to keep Chippy home Miss Breech did not know, and she told herself she did not care, but secretly she felt a little bit ashamed of herself, although she felt at the same time that she was right.
That was why Miss Breech looked with disfavor at Butch’s activities in the snow fight. “They’re teaching him more meanness,” she soliloquized, “like as not.”
Just as she turned away from the window to go back to her chair, a plump snowball landed squarely in the middle of the big clean pane. Luckily the pane did not break, but the spattered snow immediately removed all traces of Miss Breech’s labor of the morning. She quickly opened the front door to catch the person who had done this. The street was empty, except for Butch and Chippy, both of whom were looking at her with fear. Not an older boy was in sight. Chippy crept over close to Butch’s feet.
“Butch,” Miss Breech called, “come here, Butch.”
Butch started toward her obediently. Chippy cocked one ear inquisitively, then followed at a discreet distance. As Butch stepped up on the porch, Miss Breech demanded, “Did you throw that snowball?”
Chippy remained at the foot of the porch steps, an expression of suspicion upon his bristly face. Butch faced Miss Breech’s frown and spoke right up, “No’m!”
“Well, if you didn’t, I’d like to know who did. Somebody threw it. I’m sure Chippy didn’t.”
At mention of his name Chippy barked inquiringly, but settled down dejectedly with his head on his paws when Miss Breech sharply reprimanded him: “Hush! Be quiet!”
“Well, Butch,” she reiterated, “I want to know who threw that ball. If you didn’t, do you know who did?”
Butch had learned his lesson well from the neighborhood boys. It was not in his code to tell on anybody. He did not answer Miss Breech, but looked past her through the open door to the living room, brave in its Christmas green and red. His eyes played around the room, searching. then, because it was more important to him to have Christmas trees than to know who threw a snowball, he abruptly changed the subject by demanding, “Don’t you have a Christmas tree?”
“No, I don’t have a Christmas tree. But that is not what I asked you. Do you know …” Miss Breech stopped suddenly. Years of experience in the ways of boys warned her that this was not the way to go about this matter. Why should she force little Butch to tell on his friends? But there was little relenting in the tone with which she said, “All right; you go on home now, and take that dog with you. I don’t want him muddying up my steps and porch.”
It is doubtful that Butch registered her tone or what she said. After his discovery that Miss Breech wasn’t having a Christmas tree, his little one-track mind had refused to admit more than the one idea.
“Okay,” he said with his usual cheerfulness. A moment later he and Chippy were gone, neither giving so much as a backward look at the lonely spinster who was watching their departure.
Miss Breech closed the door with a bang and went to hunt up her window cleaning tools, which she had put away earlier in the day. It did not take long to clean up the effects of the snowball, but anything is a hard chore when one is tired and lonely and a bit sorry for one’s self on Christmas Eve.
Miss Breech made herself a simple supper of hot milk and toast. She was too tired to do more. She was finishing the last piece of toast when the doorbell rang. She slowly walked to the door and opened it.
There stood Butch in his warm red jacket and overalls. At his side was Chippy, who evidently thought amicable relations had been resumed with the woman in the white cottage. Without a word Butch walked into the room, wet galoshes and all. Chippy followed, his tail frisking merrily.
Miss Breech shouted at them: “Butch, you get out of here. And take that pesky dog along. Look at my clean carpet! Don;’t you know better than to walk in here like that? Get out!”
Without a word Butch turned and started for the door. Chippy had left at the first angry tone. Butch slowly walked across the porch and down the steps. Only when he was on the walk did Miss Breech look up from her angry stare at the muddy wet tracks on her living room rug. Then she saw what she had been too angry to notice before. Under Butch’s coat and protruding in the fear of his stocky little body was a little artificial Christmas tree.
“Oh,” she gasped. “Oh, what have I done?”
Grabbing her big woollen shawl, she hastily set out for her neighbor’s house. When she knocked on the door, Butch’s mother opened it. Butch was standing by the door to the kitchen, big tears streaming down his face. Chippy was gently licking Butch’s one free hand that hung by his side, while the other still was helping to hold up the little tree under his coat.
“Come in, Miss Breech,” Butch’s mother said. “I hope Butch did not annoy you. When he found out you did not have a tree, nothing would do him but he must take over his own little tree that Aunt Mary sent him. We have the other big tree, and he thought you wouldn’t have a real Christmas, if you didn’t have a tree.”
Miss Breech cried, “Oh, Butch,” and ran to him. She gathered him in his arms, dog, tree, and all. “Oh, Butch, you bring that tree right over to my house and we’ll put it up right now.”
Butch’s tears disappeared like magic. A smile that exposed every absent tooth in his head was on his face as Miss Breech clasped his sweaty little hand in hers and led him out the door. “We’ll be back after a while,” she said to Butch’s mother. “Come on, Chippy,” she called, “you’re coming, too.”
Such goings-on as there were in Miss Breech’s house that night! Popcorn was popped and paper decorations were pasted. When the last little trinket was in place and the lovely silver star was atop the tree, Miss Breech sat down in her big chair with Butch on her lap and read, as she had on so many days at school, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” as a tired little boy rested his head against her shoulder, and an equally tired little dog looked up at them in perplexed acceptance of his new role.
After Butch and Chippy had taken a somewhat belated departure, Miss Breech straightened up her living room once more. She didn’t feel lonely at all; in fact, she was humming “Up On the Housetop, Click, Click, Click,” as she straightened the runner on the table under the little tree. It was then she discovered what she had been too busy to note before. Under the tree lay a little parcel, clumsily tied in colored paper and tinseled ribbon. She did not open it. Instead she did what she had always done with her children’s gifts. She carefully placed the package on the tree, to be opened in the morning.
“Bless his little heart,” she murmured softly to herself. “Bless his little heart!”