Grouchy Ol' Mrs. C
I glanced up from the lawn mower, and my heart sank to my sneakers. The front door of Apartment C-1 was slowly creaking open, and I knew before I even saw her that she was coming after me.
I sighed and shut down the mower. It didn’t make sense. Most of the people who lived in these apartments said I did a great job as their groundskeeper. I was always getting compliments on how hard I worked cutting grass, trimming bushes, and pulling weeds. But not from the elderly woman in Apartment C-1. All “Mrs. C” ever did was complain.
“The grass around the trees hasn’t been trimmed in two weeks!” Mrs. C began, her customary scowl growing deeper. “When are you going to do your job?”
I started to explain that I hadn’t trimmed yet because the weedwhacker was in the repair shop. But Mrs. C just plowed right over me.
“Listen, young lady,” she said. “I know the only reason you have this job is that your grandfather is my landlord. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you get away with being lazy. I’m keeping my eye on you!” With that, Mrs. C whirled around and marched back inside.
I stood there for a moment, my face burning hot with anger and embarrassment. Why couldn’t Mrs. C ever leave me alone? She was always complaining about the tiniest things!
Just last week Mrs. C had scolded me for getting tangled in the bedsheet that she’d hung out to dry. She acted as if I meant to pull it off the clothesline! True, I guess I should have picked up the sheet instead of blowing grass clippings all over it. Still, I was certain Mrs. C just liked to annoy me.
The more I thought about Mrs. C, the more furious I became. I fumed as I finished mowing. I boiled as I trimmed the bushes. I plotted revenge with every weed I pulled. Something had to be done.
I was sprawled out on my bedroom floor after work when it occurred to me to pray about the problem.
If anyone can change Mrs. C’s heart, God can, I thought.
Quickly I folded my hands. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I made it brief. “Dear God,” I said, “please do something about Mrs. C before she drives me crazy! Amen.”
As soon as I opened my eyes, my gaze wandered to the corkboard hanging above my desk. In particular, I noticed
a small bookmark that was pinned to the board. It was a colorful bookmark with a yellow smiley face and the words “Smile! God loves you!” written underneath.
A strange, crazy plan began to hatch in my brain. Before I could change my mind, I yanked the bookmark off the board and scribbled a message across the back: “Smile! From Your Secret Pal.”
I vowed to leave the bookmark on Mrs. C’s doormat the next time I mowed her lawn. Maybe it wouldn’t change anything, but it was worth a try.
I was busy yanking weeds in the flower bed outside of Apartment C-1. I didn’t notice Mrs. C coming up the walk until her shadow fell over my head. I could almost feel her glare.
“Watch what you’re doing,” she instructed. “And don’t pull out my daffodils.”
I bit my lip and resisted the urge to inform Mrs. C that I knew the difference between a weed and a flower.
“Don’t step on them either,” Mrs. C went on. “I don’t know why they let a child do this job . . .” She disappeared into her apartment, still muttering to herself.
I jerked a weed with all my might, toppling over backward. I was extremely tempted to knock on Mrs. C’s door and tell her what I thought about her. But then I remembered how I had been praying for her lately. I sighed and yanked another weed.
My plan wasn’t working out the way I’d hoped. Every time I worked at the apartments, I left a small gift for Mrs. C—a bookmark, a card, a magnet with a Bible verse on it. And along with each secret peace offering I included a short note, ending with “Smile! From Your Secret Pal.” I figured if I kept this up long enough, God would use my little notes to change Mrs. C’s attitude.
But it wasn’t working. Mrs. C just went right on complaining. I didn’t pull the weeds often enough. I trimmed the bushes too often. I cut the grass too high. Then I cut it too short. There were hideous mushrooms growing in her backyard. No, Mrs. C definitely wasn’t changing . . . but something else was.
I first noticed the change the day I came in to work and discovered that Mrs. C had stuck a silly cement goose statue right in the middle of her tiny strip of lawn—just another obstacle for me to move every time I cut grass. Normally I would have spent half the day upset over something like that, but for some reason it didn’t bug me so much anymore.
It could be worse, I thought. Our neighbor has statues of all seven dwarfs in his front yard. So I thanked God that Mrs. C had only the goose, and slowly my anger began to disappear.
It was then that an entirely new thought struck me. Maybe Mrs. C wasn’t the only one who needed a new attitude.
I had been Mrs. C’s secret pal for about a month when one afternoon, while I was trimming bushes, she stepped outside Apartment C-1 and just stood there, watching me silently. I considered ignoring her, but I suddenly realized that I no longer even felt like being nasty to Mrs. C. So I lowered the clippers and turned to face her.
“Hi,” I said, readying myself for another complaint. “Did you need something?”
Mrs. C pointed to the bush beside me, the one I had just been about to trim. “I wanted to warn you,” she said. “There’s a wasps’ nest in that bush. So be careful.”
I peered into the bush, and sure enough, an enormous wasps’ nest hung in the branches. If Mrs. C hadn’t pointed it out, I probably would have been stung.
“Wow, thanks!” I exclaimed.
Mrs. C nodded solemnly, then moved to go inside. She paused for a moment in the doorway and looked back. I noticed she was wearing the pin I had slipped under her door the week before.
My heart pounded. Does she know? I wondered. Does she know I’m her secret pal? Suddenly the whole thing seemed kind of silly. I wondered if Mrs. C thought so too. Then before I could wonder any longer, I had my answer.
As the two of us stood there near each other, something very strange and incredible happened: Mrs. C smiled.