I grew up in a small town in Kansas. Summers were spent running around with my cousins, playing in our grandparents’ backyard, hanging out at the city park, swimming at the local pool, taking turns churning ice cream while the mosquitoes ate us alive in the backyard. A pretty kickass childhood.
One thing we loved to do was go to the pond in the city park and catch bullfrogs. Huge bullfrogs. Easily two feet long when stretched out. Our grandfather paid us kids twenty five cents per frog. That was a lot of ice cream bars at the local pool.
Grandpa Chuck kept the frogs in a big fish tank in the garage. Once we got our money we kids didn’t pay much attention to what he did with them after. I think we just assumed he was a grandparent spoiling his grandkids and he probably took the frogs back to the pond and let them go.
My cousin, my brother and myself had been out playing all day and went to see what Grandma was making for dinner. All the cousins were spending the night, an event that happened several times during the summers when we could all be together.
The kitchen smelled like heaven, as usual. Everyone in this world has a calling, and my Grandmother’s was to cook. She was at the stove working over a skillet, potatoes boiling, and the ever present pot of chicken and noodles (which was a side dish no Sunday dinner was complete without) bubbling away as well. My cousin walked up to hug Grandma and admire what we though was a frying pan of her famous fried chicken.
It wasn’t fried chicken in the skillet. When my cousin asked Grandma what was for dinner, she told him the kids were having meatloaf and Grandpa was having fried frogs legs.
Absolute horror. I remember the three of us looking at each other as what Grandma had said sunk in. Fried frog’s legs. Grandpa had been eating all those bullfrogs we had been catching all summer. We were sick. I don’t think we ate a bite as the rest of the cousins chattered and plowed their way through Grandma’s dinner. Grandpa ate in front of the TV, as he always had.
The three of us took off on our own after dinner was finally over, heading to the quiet corner of the backyard. Everyone else sprawled in front of the TV, probably watching Wild Kingdom or the Disney program of the week. But we had to do something. Just that morning we had brought a half dozen frogs to Grandpa. They were in the garage in the fish tank.
We plotted, schemed and came up with a plan. It was just going to be the three of us. My cousin was 9, I was 7, my brother was 5. We didn’t dare let anyone else in on the plan. Doesn’t everyone have that one cousin who tattles no matter what? It was up to the three of us to save those poor bullfrogs.
We made it through the rest of the evening. All the cousins settled in the living room, sleeping bags and blankets covering the rag rug. The three of us made sure we settled ourselves right by the door to the kitchen, so we didn’t have to climb over any sleeping bodies.
We waited until about one in the morning. Then we got up and snuck into the kitchen. My cousin grabbed the garbage can and out the back door we went.
What we had failed to take into account with our ever so careful planning was our Grandfather’s war with the next door neighbor. Those two crotchety old men had been fighting over whose garden rake was whose since the previous summer. Grandpa was convinced that the neighbor was stealing his tools at night and had taken to locking up the garage. We kids didn’t know this.
Our only hope was that Grandpa hadn’t locked the small window over his workbench. He hadn’t. My cousin was the tallest of us so he crawled through and unlocked the door for my brother and I. We quickly transferred the frogs from the tank to the garbage can and set our for the city park. At 1 am. Remember the fact that we were 9, 7, and 5?
Luckily we lived in a very small town. We made it to the park and back with no incident. Got the garbage can back into the kitchen. Settled into our blankets and drifted off to a very self righteous sleep.
Grandma woke us all up the next morning with pancakes and bacon. We ate well and went off to spend our day pulling all the cousins aside and telling them what Grandpa had really done with all those frogs and how we couldn’t catch any more for him every again. Well, except for that tattle tale cousin, who was afraid of frogs anyway.
Later that day Grandpa found the garage door open and all the frogs gone. Of course the neighbor got all the blame, at first. Then as Grandpa realized none of us were bringing him frogs any longer he started to suspect some of us had something to do with it. No one told however. And after time everyone forgot all about it.
A few years ago my dad and I were on the phone reminiscing about things that happened when my brother and I were young. I told him the real story behind the disappearing bullfrogs. He laughed for a few minutes. Then he realized exactly what we had done. Breaking and entering. Theft. Three kids under the age of 10 walking around town in the wee hours of the morning. He tried to ground me. That didn’t work so well of course.
Dad of course wanted to know if there were any more childhood adventures he didn’t know about. I told him that was the only one. I mean what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him can it?