“If we keep our stock of yogurt, butter and milk in a solitary dark place, your Krishna and Balarama find it in the darkness by the glaring effulgence of the ornaments and jewels on Their bodies. If by chance They cannot find the hidden butter and yogurt, They go to our little babies and pinch their bodies so that they cry, and then They go away. If we keep our stock of butter and yogurt high on the ceiling, hanging on a swing, although it is beyond Their reach, They arrange to reach it by piling all kinds of wooden crates over the grinding machine.” (Gopis speaking to mother Yashoda, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)
As is natural for children in the course of growing up, clown-related material, gadgets, gaffes, tricks, and pranks become intriguing at some point or another. Cliff’s children were no different. Joseph and Paul were fifteen and eight respectively, and during a particular time they were very fond of pranks. They played them on each other, on their friends, and even on their mother. Then one day they decided to try them out on Cliff.
“Hey Dad, how’s it going today?” Paul asked, as he held out his hand with a curious smile. Cliff could tell something was going on, so he responded, “I don’t know. You tell me.” He then took Paul’s outstretched hand and pressed it against Paul’s stomach. Immediately a buzzing sound occurred, and everyone in the room laughed.
“How did you know?” Paul asked.
“I know everything. You should know better than to play tricks on your dad.”
Of course, for the enthusiastic children this was not the end. Their father having baffled their trick only gave them more motivation to try again. In the ensuing weeks, they tried all the classic pranks. They put a whoopee cushion underneath Cliff’s seat at dinner. Joseph asked Cliff to reach for a handkerchief that was attached to his pocket. Paul wore a flower on his jacket and asked his dad to have a closer look. In all such cases, the father foiled the trick. And every time he was anything but a gracious winner. “Will you guys just give it up already? I will always outsmart you. You can’t trick the master; I’ve done all these things and more in my life.”
The children had one more trick up their sleeves. This one would surely get their father, they thought. To make sure this was the case, they enlisted the help of their mother. One day they approached her in the living room while she was watching television.
“Mom, what can we do to finally get Dad?” they asked. “He’s been rubbing it in our faces all this time.”
“Hmm, I don’t like all this trickery, but I too would like to wipe that smug look off his face. You know what would get him, is if one of you did something that he really hates.”
“Oh this is great, what should we do, Mom?”
“Let me think. Well, you know how your father really doesn’t like tattoos? Maybe one of you can get a fake one. But it would have to be one that looks almost real.”
“Mom, they have those, you know,” responded Joseph. “I’ve seen kids in school with them. They’re like these sleeves that go on your arms. The kids would get into trouble, and then take them off in front of the principal.”
“Oh this sounds great. Okay, so I think Joseph, you should get one of those and reveal it after dinner. Your dad is sure to flip out.”
The kids and their mom thought they had a foolproof plan to finally get Cliff. The only problem was that Cliff happened to overhear this conversation from the kitchen. He knew everything that was going to happen, and so he planned accordingly.
At dinner the next night, according to plan Joseph revealed his fake tattoos by taking off his sweatshirt. “Look what I got today, Mom and Dad. Don’t you like it?” Both the mother and Paul pretended to be shocked and outraged. On the inside they were giggling, as they awaited Cliff’s tirade. What they got, however, was just the opposite.
“Wow, son, that looks great,” said a seemingly pleased Cliff with a smile on his face. “The only problem is that you got this tattoo on only one arm. You need symmetry, my dear boy. A friend of mine is a great tattoo artist. We’ll go to him tomorrow. He’ll do your other arm for you. We’ll get something really nice.”
Joseph was now mortified, as was the mother. She was as much against tattoos for her children as Cliff. “Cliff, honey, don’t you think this one set of tattoos is enough?” “Nonsense, my dear,” responded Cliff. “The boy will look like a fool walking around school with tattoos on only one arm. Tomorrow we will go and fix him up. I am very excited.”
So afraid of the prospect of getting a real tattoo, Joseph started to cry. Both the mother and Paul also were on the verge of tears in pleading with Cliff to change his mind. Then, while smiling ear to ear, Cliff dropped the hammer. “Of course, I’m not sure if my friend can do this kind of tattoo.” Cliff then ripped off the fake tattoo sleeve that Joseph was wearing. Cliff then pointed in his son’s face and said, “Got ya! I told you. Don’t mess with the master.” Paul and the mother begrudgingly laughed, and Joseph was now so relieved to not have to get a real tattoo.
That night, as Cliff was tucking him in to sleep, Paul started praising his father.
“Dad, you really do know everything. It’s amazing.”
“Well, in all honesty son, I’m not all-knowing. I overheard your little plan from the kitchen.”
“Oh, that’s funny. We thought we were going to get you good.”
“But you know there is one person who is all-knowing. He is the Supreme Lord. One of His names is Krishna. When He roamed this earth a long time ago, He was also a kind of prankster. In His sweet, childhood form He would steal butter from the homes of the neighbors in Vrindavana.”
“He was a butter thief, Dad? That’s really funny.”
“Yeah, but the neighbors thought they could outsmart Krishna. They knew He was special; though they didn’t fully realize that He was the Supreme Lord Himself, who rests in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. Since He was in their hearts, He knew everything they were doing. They tried very hard to hide the butter from Him. They would put the butter pots in the cupboard and place them very high up, somewhere young children couldn’t possibly reach.”
“Did Krishna outsmart them, then?”
“He sure did. He and His friends devised a scheme where they would assemble on top of one another, sort of like a human pyramid. Krishna and His brother Balarama would then reach up and poke holes in the butter pots. Then the butter would effortlessly flow into their awaiting mouths.”
“I bet that tasted so good! Did they ever get caught?”
“Sometimes they did. Krishna and Balarama were beautifully decorated with jewels by their mothers. So in that dark room there was still plenty of light. They were sometimes caught by this light, and the neighbors would then bring Krishna to His mother, Yashoda, for punishment.”
“Did He get in trouble?”
“The ladies would make their accusations to Yashoda, but then while looking at Krishna they would lose all of their anger. They would be so happy instead just by looking at Krishna. Such is the magic of the Supreme Lord. Even in so-called stealing He pleases others.”
Paul asked to hear more about the adventures of Krishna, and Cliff promised to reveal a lifetime’s worth of stories in due time, for the glories of the topics of the darling of Vrindavana are without limit. The butter thief knows all, and so if one desires His association, Krishna finds ways to give it to them.
As in each and every heart to reside,
To find butter even when others to hide.
One upon each other the boys stacked,
Jewels from mothers giving light they lacked.
Sometimes by gopis Krishna caught,
And in front of Yashoda was brought.
Changed their minds after making punishment’s appeal,
Pleased were they that their butter Krishna did steal.