In the O. Henry short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” two small-time criminals kidnap a banker’s son and hold him for ransom. The banker does not respond, as he is enjoying a break from the child.
The kid proclaims himself Red Chief and exhausts his captors. He even announces that one of his abductors is now his prisoner and threatens to scalp him by daybreak. Eventually the kidnappers pay the father to take the child back.
Two of our grandchildren came to stay with us recently, and while I would never say that the darlings were as rambunctious as Red Chief, I was thankful we did not have a tomahawk on the premises.
They are children who register on the lively end of the activity spectrum. Part of the reason is that they and their baby brother live in a two-bedroom Chicago apartment, which in their case is tantamount to housing wild mustangs in a small horse trailer. Naturally, when they have access to wide-open spaces, they enjoy running, galloping and pawing at the ground.
Invigorated by the great outdoors, one of the things the active 5-year-old likes to do is wake the household each morning with an owl call. She’s quite good, really. She does a very lifelike screech owl. If you have ever been awakened by the loud and piercing cry of a screech owl inches from your face, you will understand why there is no need for morning caffeine.
You will find that you start - and finish - the day moving quickly, startling easily and acquiring a small tic beneath your right eye.
They spent nearly every daylight hour playing in the backyard. They barreled outside as early as 7:15 or 7:30. I can’t remember exactly, but the neighbors do.
They spent hours with the sandbox, two big old galvanized tubs and the hose, basically realigning natural resources. They excavated sand from the sandbox, flooded the sandbox, then returned sand to the sandbox until they perfected a marvelous, disgusting swamp-like mixture that cemented to their skin and found its way into every nook, cranny, towel and bed in the house.
As each day drew to a close they would appear to wind down a bit, line up two chairs in the middle of the backyard and have a seat.
“Peaceful,” the husband said.
“The calm before the storm,” I said.
They were sitting motionless to stake out a rabbit. Not just any rabbit, but a rabbit that is a routine visitor and so large he could easily be Sunday dinner. I may have told the kids if they could catch the rabbit they could keep it. So they sat and waited armed with nothing but fierce speed and their bare hands.
They came so close to the rabbit so many times that I reached for my grandmother’s Wild Game cookbook. But the rabbit always escaped, each evening bouncing higher and higher in the air until it appeared to be part white-tailed deer.
The children have returned to the city, the sand has been swept away and the rabbit has resumed regular evening visits, although it appears a bit nervous. It has acquired a tic beneath its right eye.