THEY COULDN’T FOOL ME by mia hinkle

This is based on a story my dad, Donald Huseth, tells about himself. It takes place when he was four or five years old, living on the family farm in west central Minnesota in the mid 1920s. Over the 80 years since, he has wondered where he would have gotten such an idea, as of course there were no TVs, radios, or magazines in the house at that time.

My heart was pounding in my throat. I could barely hear my footsteps for the sound of rushing blood in my ears. I knew I’d catch them this time!

Holding my breath, I tried to make my steps as light as feathers, to keep them from hearing me. Slowly I made my way across the creaky floorboards of the old porch.

They couldn’t fool me. I knew what they were up to. Ma and Pa, my sisters and brother were all inside. The sun was setting and the amber glow of the windows looked warm and inviting.

They couldn’t trick me. I knew that the minute I left the old farmhouse they’d push a button that made everything fancy inside.

When I closed the door behind me, I knew they pushed a secret button in a hidden place—and out came the crystal and the china. Out came food with names we couldn’t even pronounce. Out came fine dresses and high-heeled shoes, suits and ties like the bankers in town wore. Chandeliers made of gold and pearls lowered out of the ceiling. The imported linen drapes replaced the feed sacks tacked to the window frame. Even the floors were covered with carpets in rich colors. Our homemade rickety furniture was replaced by overstuffed brocade chairs and couches. The dining room table was hand-carved and highly polished. An oil painting hung above the fireplace. A grandfather clock kept perfect time in the corner. Tick…tock… tick…tock.

They couldn’t fool me. I was certain that the minute my little feet hit the driveway heading for the barn, my Ma would sit down at a grand piano in her fancy dress and play Chopin. The girls would read to one another from leather-bound classics. My Pa would sit at a roll-top desk, smiling as he counted his money—because there was enough of it! Then they would all gather around the dinner table, eating prime rib and lobster, using perfect manners, visiting and laughing. Even my big brother would have something nice to say.

Heart pounding in my ears. Sneaking across the rickety porch. Holding my breath. Who did they think they were? They couldn’t fool me. I grabbed the doorknob and turned it. For an instant, it stuck. I grabbed it with both hands and burst through the door. “Ah ha!”

But no. There stood my Ma, at the stove, in her faded house-dress, stirring the stew in a black cast-iron pot. My sisters setting the table. My brother grousing about the price of a bushel of corn. No china. No crystal. Not even a tablecloth. Stew for dinner. Again.

The next morning, I left the house to check on the baby chicks in the coop. So yellow. So soft. Peep, peep, peep, peep. I wished they could just stay this age.

Suddenly I heard it. The faint sound of a piano. I looked up at the old farmhouse. The door was shut tight. The curtains were closed. The house had been built to stand against the Minnesota cold many years ago, and now it sadly needed a coat of paint. I was born in this very house four and half years ago, and I knew it’s every nook and cranny. I couldn’t help but wonder: How could they hide something as big as a piano?

I began to sneak towards the house. The strains of Chopin got louder and louder. As I crept up the porch steps, I thought I heard laughter coming from inside. A window had been left open and the breeze parted the curtains. I crawled on my belly across the porch, afraid I’d get a splinter. I gripped the window sill with my chubby little hands. I knew I’d catch them this time. I popped up and peered through the window.

Argh! Too late! They must have seen me coming and pushed the button just in time. Beyond the feed sacks, I saw only the same old dim ordinary interior. Foiled again!

Day after day that summer, I would try different doors…different windows…different plans to try to catch them in the act. But I was never quite quick enough. I never did catch them red-handed.

But I’ve always known the truth. They couldn’t fool me.

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