Something at the back of the house caught Larry’s eye; he didn’t know what but it caused him to pause. He had meant to turn off the tap at the kitchen wall where he was filling watering cans after school, but despite himself, he had to look again. It was the scarecrow – the scarecrow was moving – in fact it was eating a carrot! Just as the bizarre notion entered his brain, his socks and sandals were suddenly deluged with cold water as the watering can overflowed and he was left standing in a widening puddle. In a panic he bent and turned off the tap. Slapping his soggy feet on the flagged path, he quickly ran up into the garden behind their house. The scarecrow had gone – not just his apparition but literally. The frame in the middle of the vegetable plot from which grandad’s mac had flapped in the wind, topped by a bowler hat stood bare, as a cross of two poles. Only the old leather gloves, too huge for him or his mother to wear, and tacked on the ends as hands, waved limply…
Larry stood and looked around the enclosed garden. It ran deep and narrow behind their house only stopped by the hedge that divided their garden from that of the house on the parallel suburban road. On either side the garden boundaries were neighbours fences, friends of many years. No-one who would steal mum’s scarecrow. Larry glanced at the ground. Immediately before him was a trampled patch of soil across the two lines of carrots. A gap in the green fronds showed at least three had been uprooted; the greenery discarded. He knew the scarecrow had eaten them !
Excited, Larry looked around once more. There was nowhere to hide amid the rows of vegetables, only in the old shed leaning against the far corner of the house. With no thoughts of danger or calling for assistance, Larry’s only resolve as he crept towards the wooden outbuilding was apprehending this sure fire “Gerry spy”, parachuted down into England to see what they were doing for the war effort! Larry would pounce on him and catch him red handed!
Squelching quietly, he neared the shabby door. It hung crookedly ajar, green paint peeling, the wood rotting with neglect. Just as he was about to pull it open, it occurred to Larry that he ought to have a weapon, just in case. There was nothing to hand; all the garden tools were neatly stowed inside the shed by his mother. All he could see was a basket of potatoes he’d picked earlier, that he should have taken indoors. Selecting two of the largest, Larry steadied himself… before yanking the door open with a loud angry yell, for the element of surprise. With arms and potatoes raised, he charged into the shed, only to realise that the sun outside had blinded his vision in the dark of the shed! The realisation caught him short, just as he sensed movement among the old poles and sacks in the back of the cluttered space.
‘Halt!’ he cried “ Put your hands up immediately, and surrender!’
Nothing stirred. As his eyes accustomed themselves to the poor light, he could just about discern a face wearing a bowler hat, atop a body clad in grandad’s mac, crouching on the floor.
Twinkling brown eyes in a tanned face, looked at him in friendly astonishment as two hands went slowly up in the air. Larry was elated – got him! The man stood up in a leisurely fashion and said something in a language Larry could not understand, although it didn’t sound German, he thought… much more sing song and friendly. Backing out into the sunlight again, Larry shouted at his prisoner to walk across to the path and enter the kitchen door, potatoes still at the ready… The man walked into the house to be met by Larry’s mother – alarm on her face and a kitchen knife handy, while Larry explained he had caught a spy stealing their food and clothes.
This was the tale Larry told his own children long after the war ended, as they begged for a bedtime story, all about how Grandma had met grandad as a young Italian prisoner of war. How he had absconded and needed a coat to cover his service overalls; how he then gave himself up after grandma pleaded with him, and later came to work in their garden for free, as he and Larry’s mother got to know each better. Larry, then seven years old, and still in short trousers, soon accepted Antonio as a father figure, and so a new chapter in his life had begun.
Image: with thanks to CGStudio