• FUN WITH DICK AND JANE

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    FUN WITH DICK AND JANE

     

     

    Deciding to throw away some of the junk I had accumulated over a lifetime, I was sitting on a piece of plywood in the attic, holding a small flashlight in my mouth.   I was sorting through boxes of junk when I came across a wooden crate labeled “Richard’s School Memories.”

     

    “This should be good,” I thought.  My mom saved everything that might have enhanced my stature from the first grade on.  Six years old, yup, that’s right – 1948 ­– Pleasant Grove, Utah.  Little town of about thirty-two hundred.  Everybody’s dad worked at Geneva Steel. or farmed, or did both.  The most serious challenge I could make to my friends was, “My dad can beat up your dad”, followed by, “My mom is prettier than your mom.”

     

    As I pawed through my old school projects, gold-starred report cards, and construction-paper art, a green and red book caught my eye.  Even before I reached, I knew what it was, my copy of “Fun with Dick and Jane”.  A favorite and a curse.

    The reading primer is not so popular now, but it is still much better than the People magazine articles about dissipated Hollywood lowlifes. My sister was Susan Jane ­– of course she went by Jane; my name was Richard – so there you have it – Dick and Jane.  We both suffered from the slings and arrows of our classmates.  “See Dick Run,” they yelled as they chased me across the schoolyard during recess. They weren’t interested in pummeling me; just liked to chase so they could chant and occasionally give me a shove.  Even my teacher, Mrs. Ash, thought it funny.

     

    Since about age five I had been pestering my dad to get a dog – my dog, not the family’s dog.  In 1949, he finally relented, giving me the standard lecture that it was my responsibility to care for, feed, and pick up after the dog, to not to let it in the house, and to make sure it didn’t kill our chickens or chase the sheep.  I told him I would agree to stay up all night every night to take care of my hound if need be.  “There is one more condition, “ said my Father.  “The dog has to be free. We don’t buy animals around here unless they can produce more than they cost.”  “Okay, Okay,” I said, “I’ve got six dollars saved; could you give me some help if it’s not enough?”  My dad just gave me the “look” – usually accompanied with the comment, “You think money grows on trees?”  That look also meant he thought I was about to make another gigantic mistake that probably would result in physical injury, disappointment to all involved, and frequent banishment to my bedroom after school.

     

    My hunt for a dog was relentless.  I wanted a dog that would be a protector, bite my classmates, and shake the rattlesnakes that inhabited the hill above us – raise the alarm against any intruders, obedient to my every command.  Maybe a Wolfhound, Great Dane, or Bulldog with three-inch fangs.

     

    One day our milkman mentioned that he had seen some new puppies on his route, over at the Henderson’s.  I made a beeline   immediately.  “Yes,” Mrs. Henderson said, they had a new litter.  I’d be welcome to look.  They were all black and white and resembled Spot from Dick and Jane, which I saw as a distinct disadvantage.  “Come back around six, John will be home then and you can talk to him.”  I didn’t want to talk with him, he was a well known grumpy farmer  (Is there any other kind?) with a bad attitude towards children – the Henderson’s had none of their own.

     

    Nevertheless, I was there right at six.  “What do you want?” growled Mr. Henderson.  “Thought I could maybe get a puppy from you,” I said. “ You got any money, young feller?”  “I’ve got six dollars.” “That’s hardly enough to buy one of my purebreds, but let’s go look.”  There was the litter, all jumping up and down, except one, shivering in the corner.   “Because your folks are good people, I’ll let you have the pick of the litter for only six dollars – show me the money first, so I know you have it.”  “How much is the one in the corner?” I asked.  “You don’t want that one, he’s always showing the white’s of his eyes, whimpering, and scared of his own shadow.”

     

    Now if this was a “feel good” Dick and Jane story, Spot would be rescued by Dick, and raised to become like Lassie – protective, sensitive, loyal, intelligent and fun.  Not a merely a pet, but a family member, who would raise the alarm at the very slightest sign of a problem.

     

    But this wasn’t Dick and Jane, and in purchasing the runt of the litter for a dollar I began an unsteady financial voyage through life, where I continued to believe that buying something at a whopping discount was the best decision.  It wasn’t, still isn’t.

     

    My dad insisted that he name the dog, since I was underage (what was that about?).  Yup, with his warped sense of humor, you can guess what he picked.

    I would smuggle Spot into my bedroom after my parents turned out the lights.  I found he wasn’t the easiest to housebreak, so we put him outside on the porch after the third night  – he commenced to howl, but my dad had a cautionary word with him and he quieted right down.

     

    My father came up to me one Saturday afternoon about a month later and said, “I believe you’ve got yourself a “Chicken Dog.”  I immediately defended Spot, declaring he would never chase or attack our chickens.  “Well, let’s see,” my dad said.  We went up to the chicken run outside the coup where fifteen or so chickens were scratching and pecking at the ground, hoping some sort of insect would fall into their grasp.  Dad pushed Spot through the mesh gate and told me to watch carefully.  Spot looked at the chickens, the chickens looked at Spot, and then to my shame, the chickens took after Spot, led by a bantam rooster, running him around the boundaries of the fence.  “See what I mean, the dog’s a “Chicken Dog,” even afraid of our hens.”

     

    Spot and I had a serious talk that afternoon, even to the point that I offered to kill the mean-tempered rooster and claim he had done it.  Didn’t happen, Spot was more interested in marking fence posts, rocks, the occasional tall weed and our back door.  He was also an aficionado of fresh horse manure – good for a full-bodied roll before I could stop him.  He also liked to sample a steaming dropping or two, giving new meaning to the term “Dog Breath”.

     

    I was able to train him to sit up, but only if food was at the ready.  He was a full-blown foodaholic and anything that fell from the table was fair game – fruit pits, paper napkins, banana peels– you name it, he would wolf it down.

     

    But he was my faithful dog, always excited to see me when I came home from school, jumping up on me with muddy paws, ready at a minute’s notice to go on any adventure.  Also ready to scram if there was any threat.  Early on I tried, “Sic em, Spot” in hopes he would bite my sister or one of her friends.  He wouldn’t bite anyone, that is, if you don’t count me.  He chewed into my finger that was holding a bacon sandwich, nipped me on the ankle once when I was in full flight from the Duval twins, (I’d like to hope it was to increase my speed) and would plant his teeth in my ear while I was asleep.  He also bit his own tail occasionally in a case of mistaken identity.

     

    I made a valiant attempt to train him to pull me in my red Radio Flyer wagon.  Maybe make it around the block.  He decided to not pull, just come and sit in the wagon with me.  Eventually, I ended up pulling him while he barked commands to increase speed.

     

    Then Jane got an orange tabby cat, and said that since my dog was Spot, she knew no reason not to call her cat, “Puff.”  “You already named that stinky teddy bear, Tim,” I said.  All we need now is a baby named Sally and we’d fill out the whole book,” I said in disgust.

     

    Sure enough, two months later we were all gathered around the dinner table – Spot lurking underneath.  My mom said she had an announcement.  She was going to have a baby.  I put my head down on the table.  “Please, please, promise me you won’t name the baby Sally.”  “ I ‘m sure it’s going to be a boy so what name would you like?” said Mom.  “How about Butch or Rock or Duke?”  “I’ve been thinking about Sal, would that be okay?”  “No! No! No!” I shouted, “Anything but that.”  The next seven months passed slowly.  “What was my mom thinking; bringing a brother into a family whose children were continually ridiculed and chased after – with a “Chicken Dog”, a disgusting cat, and a germ ridden filthy Teddy Bear?  Maybe something would happen and she would give the new arrival away.

     

    The big day came and I went to the hospital with my dad.  The first hint of trouble was the pink carnations he brought.  Then we went into mom’s room.  The baby was swaddled in a pink blanket. This could not be happening to me.  “So, what are going to name my new sister?” I grimly asked. “We thought we would name her Anne.” “Hallelujah, finally off the hook.”  “Sally Anne Watson.  Do you like that name?” my mom grinned.  I went outside and ejected the scrambled eggs and toast I’d had for breakfast.

     

    I was so irritated that I decided maybe I should do my own drawings for the Dick and Jane books.  I started with a cover, which I believed to be a masterpiece, then did several other sketches in Mr. Woolstenhulme’s art class.  I also renamed my nemeses – Dick the Dipstick, Jane the Junk Woman, and Sally the Slobberer.   Spot was, of course, the rabies carrier – Puff, the mangy cat, who had turned out to be a hellcat biting anything that moved.   My mother had kept these masterpieces through the years.  They seemed rather childish now, but I could still remember the humiliation I had felt growing up as Dick, with sisters Jane, and Sally, and with Spot, Puff and Tim as the supporting cast.

     

     

     

     

    Finally when I was twelve I moved on to Jr. High and met new kids who didn’t know of my past embarrassments.  I started calling myself by my middle name, David. My sisters did the same; Susan and Anne.  Spot got bitten by a rattlesnake – saving me as I was about to step on it. I tossed Puff into the canal several times but the feline could swim like an otter.  Finally even Sally had had enough of the beast biting our shoes. We transported Puff at night in a gunny sack to a home on the other side of town – we didn’t like them anyway.  Tim met a fiery end when I soaked him in kerosene and toasted him along with some marshmallows.

     

    Still, all these experiences weren’t the fault of the Dick and Jane books, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the adventures of those simpler times – no TV, no violent video games, no cell phones, eating out only on Mother’s Day – no ungodly tattoo’s creeping out of someone’s shirt collar, no vicious sarcasm laced with burning profanity, and a lot less lying.  Seemed that back then there were consequences for Dick and Jane, and they didn’t try to lie their way out of trouble.  They were happy with simple activities, treated each other as friends, and seemed to enjoy their lives.  They helped me see what was good and expected behavior, and I learned to read very rapidly.  In those long ago days when my mom said go and play after my chores were done, she meant “go outside and play” (notice Dick and Jane never played indoors).  About the worst thing that could happen when I went out to meet my friends was having them greet me with a chant of “Run Dick Run”.

    Joseph Ollivier

    Talesuntold.net

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