When the doorbell rang, my 7-year-old daughter dashed to the door and flung it wide open, leaving me no choice but to go and see who was there. When I saw the teenage boy wearing overalls, a plaid shirt and muddy boots, I wondered how Almanzo Wilder had made his way to my house in the suburbs.
Of all the “Little House on the Prairie” books I read repeatedly as a kid, “Farmer Boy” was my favorite because of the huge crush I had on Almanzo, the handsome and hard-working farm boy who would one day become Laura’s husband.
And there he finally stood, on my very own doorstep. I had to remind myself not to actually call him Almanzo, as the chances of that being his real name were fairly remote. So I stood there with my daughter, smiling wistfully, waiting to hear what he had to say.
Looking every bit like a deer in the headlights, Almanzo stood silent for an agonizingly long time, finally mustering up the guts to talk. When he finally did, I couldn’t understand anything he said. Not a single word. What I can only assume was a severe speech impediment, combined with a strong rural accent, made Almanzo’s speech virtually unintelligible.
The kid had guts, no question. At his age, I would rather have died — literally — than knock on a stranger’s door, and I didn’t even have a speech impediment to worry about.
I hoped that if I listened to him long enough, I’d be able to figure out what he was saying. In the meantime, I sent urgent telepathic messages to my daughter begging her not to say anything. Please.
Telepathy must not be my strong suit, because she looked up at me with wide eyes and said something.
“Is that guy speaking a different language?”
Panicking at this crushing blow to Almanzo’s dignity, I gestured dismissively at my daughter and blurted out a crazy, bold-faced lie, “She can’t hear very well.”
Lying obviously didn’t help matters much — it never does in the end — because I still hadn’t the faintest idea what he was saying.
So we stood there on the doorstep, Almanzo and I, quite possibly breaking the record for the world’s most awkward communication failure. About a decade later, a pickup truck loaded with produce came around the corner and stopped in front of my house. Out climbed Almanzo’s mom to save the day.
Holding a grapefruit in one hand and a knife in the other, she ran to the door and offered me a slice of the best grapefruit I had ever tasted. Almanzo and his mom had planned on arriving at my house at the same time — which would have made his sales pitch a whole lot less painful — but she had been delayed at a neighbor’s house. Poor Almanzo, already without words to describe his product, had been left without a product. Talk about a hard sell.
I felt so badly about the way things had gone down on my front porch that I didn’t hesitate to write a check for the biggest box of grapefruits in the truck. Almanzo earned every penny of it.
Currently, my two teenage sons have this terribly annoying habit of whining when faced with doing something they’re not completely comfortable with. Take the American flags they need to sell to raise money for camps this summer, for example. The way my sons go on about it, you’d think they were being forced to sell their own left pinkies.
When the whining gets ridiculous, I pull out my Almanzo card and give them some perspective. For starters, I don’t make them wear overalls or plaid shirts or even boots when selling door to door. But more importantly — and this is huge when making a sales pitch — people can actually understand them when they speak.
So stop whining.
At the same time, I get it. I know that it can be uncomfortable, and that it takes guts. But if Almanzo had the nerve to step about a mile out of his comfort zone and knock on doors, anyone can. I remind them that anything in life worth having or achieving requires a good deal of guts.
So, the new motivational catchphrase around my house is “No guts, no grapefruit!” The kids roll their eyes when they hear it, but when I catch them stepping out of their comfort zones, I’d like to think that the grapefruit lesson might just be sinking in.
And all of the credit goes to my old crush and new hero, Almanzo.
Susie Boyce is a mom, writer and public speaker based in Highland Village. Read her column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette, visit her website at www.seriousmomsense.com or her Facebook page, Writer Susie Boyce.