Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, November 11, 2018

3. Palm Sunday ... THE FARM EAST OF PINE VILLAGE




Earlier that spring—before the exciting trip to Indianapolis for the band competition—the weather suddenly turned hot. It was the morning of the 11th of April—Palm Sunday—and Ida had an idea! Why not take advantage of the warm weather and invite Don and Mary to have a wiener roast in the yard? Don and Mary were Joe and Ida’s close friends. Don and his father had been members of the same threshing ring that included Joe and his grandfather, and Mary Ann and Ida never lacked for conversation.

As Joe and Ida had no telephone, Joe drove to Don and Mary’s house to ask them to come over in the afternoon. They readily consented. It would be three more years before a phone would appear in the Rhode home. Both Ida and Joe considered phones to be expensive nuisances. Whenever they needed to receive a call, they asked (with Beulah’s permission, of course) that it be placed to the phone of Beulah Jones across the street, and Beulah dutifully walked across the highway to deliver a message that she had taken on her phone. Whenever Joe and Ida had to place a call, they asked Beulah if they could borrow her phone. The rest of the time, Robert’s parents got along just fine without a telephone.

In those days, almost every town with a population of a few thousand had everything a person could want; for example, Attica, a town of 4,300 people, boasted several blocks of thriving businesses and professional offices both upstairs and down. There was no need to phone ahead to see if a store carried a certain product. If such a product could not be found in Attica, nobody needed it. Even the smaller villages had plenty of business activity from hardware stores, through blacksmith shops, through lumber yards, through elevators, through feed stores, through electrical supply shops, through grocery stores, to clothing stores.

Before Don and Mary arrived with their family, Robert and Charles picked up limbs and piled them in the ash-covered, brick-lined area of the yard that was dedicated to roasting hot dogs. Soon, the boys had a tall pile of sticks.

“That’s plenty!” Ida said, wiping her hands on her apron as she came through the screen door. “We wouldn’t be able to get near the fire if you would pile another twig on it.”

Don and Mary’s car pulled into the half circle drive by the front gate. With her big smile, Mary flung open the passenger door, jumped out, and turned to reach a casserole dish in the middle of the seat. By the time she stood with the dish in her hands, Joe and Ida had come down the sidewalk to open the gate. Mary arched her left eyebrow and said to Ida, “You’ve been helping Joe in the fields, haven’t you? I can tell by your healthy tan.”

“I could say the same about you,” Ida retorted.

Mary looked shocked. “I haven’t been helping Joe!” she remonstrated.

“I meant Don,” Ida said, laughing.

“I know,” Mary reassured her. “I was just kidding, but I can tell you who’s going to be married this summer. Wayne Whitlow, and, no, I’m not kidding! He’s marrying Peggy Thomas.”

From somewhere in the shadow cast by the brim of his cap, Don winked at Joe. “I believe they’ve already started gossiping, Joe. We may be in for a long evening.”

Meanwhile, Don and Mary’s boys, Matt and Lon, had joined Charles and Robert for a game they had invented that might be described as “hide-and-seek meets Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” Matt and Lon brought their own cap guns, and Robert and Charles had toy guns resembling a pair of pearl-handled pistols. Wearing cowboy hats, the boys formed two teams that hid far apart among the farm buildings and sought one another while hoping to be the first to fire. Anyone fired at was “dead,” fair and square. About ready to enter the eighth grade, Charles was becoming too old for the game, but he played along just to be neighborly.

The temperature had soared into the eighties. By late afternoon, dark clouds were rolling overhead.

“I think it’s going to rain,” Ida said, after she had stepped into the yard to get a feel for the weather.

Mary said, “We probably should cook the wieners on the stove.”

Joe said, “We could get the fire going in a hurry. It doesn’t take long to cook a hot dog over a fire.”

Ida looked concerned. “We don’t want a wind to come up and blow the embers around. What would you do, Don?”

“I think you should cook the wieners on the stove.” He glanced at Joe. “That was the right answer, wasn’t it?”

“Joe, call the boys,” Ida said.

Joe strode through the gate into the chicken yard and found Robert and Lon hiding near the east chicken house. “We’re ready to eat, so come in and wash your hands,” Joe said. The smiling heads of the second team popped out from concealment behind the twin oak trees.

“Were you there all along?” Robert asked, with every tone of disappointment.

“I knew they were hiding there,” Lon said in a stage whisper. “I was just getting ready to tell you.”

“Sure you were!” Matt said.

The boys filed to the bathroom sink to slip the heavy bar of lye soap over their hands.

While everyone was eating, Ida said, “As bad as it looks outside, I think I ought to turn on the television to see if anybody is saying anything about the weather.”

Ida excused herself from the kitchen table and walked over to the Zenith, which stood high on a green “crushed ice” Formica table with metal legs. She switched on the set just in time for everyone to hear a tornado forecast that had interrupted the regularly scheduled program. The announcer reading the bulletin said there were many reports of tornadoes in northern Indiana.

Mary’s face wore a look of concentration. Then her brows arched up, she sighed, and she said, “Well, maybe we should go home—after dessert, that is.”

Everyone laughed. Joe made the “black cows” with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream covered in Coke, which foamed up and dripped temptingly down the sides of the thumbprint pattern jelly jar tumblers.

The evening ended too early, but, sometimes, the most memories are made when the fun is interrupted at its peak.

Unfortunately, the memories of that evening included the news that came in sad doses the following day. In one of the worst outbreaks of the kind, forty-seven tornadoes had touched down in Indiana and nearby states. Hundreds of people had lost their lives. The closest destruction was around the town of Mulberry. The skies above Pine Village had looked threatening, but no funnels had formed there.

Later, Mary said to Ida, “I feel bad that we were having such a good time.”

Ida said, “News like that makes you want to put your arms around your family—”

“—and hold them tight,” Mary completed Ida’s thought.
     

Sunday, November 4, 2018

2. The Cows and the Clarinet ... THE FARM EAST OF PINE VILLAGE




“Let’s visit the Nesbitt Farm,” Robert’s father, Joe, suggested on a bright winter morning. Robert and his brother, Charles, got bundled up for the drive north into Benton County, Indiana. Joe had been talking about buying two purebred Polled Herefords, so that each boy would have one to show at the county fair and so that each could start his own line of pedigreed Herefords to help pay for college tuition years later.

Mr. Nesbitt stood tall beside the door to his kitchen. He wore a pleasant smile. Stretching as far as the eye could see, Mr. Nesbitt’s flat land resembled a tan tablecloth set with blue willow ware plates, which were islands of snow with sapphire shadows. A herd of white-faced, cinnamon-colored calves that had been weaned stood facing the same direction in a fenced enclosure just beyond a clean, well-appointed barn. A child’s coloring book featuring life on the farm would have done well to depict Mr. Nesbitt as the ideal farmer.

“We might be in the market for a couple of heifers,” Joe began, as he shook hands with Mr. Nesbitt.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” Mr. Nesbitt replied agreeably. “I have plenty of heifers for you to choose from.”

Mr. Nesbitt guided Joe, Charles, and Robert toward the pasture.

“Are the heifers for your boys here?” Mr. Nesbitt asked.

“Yes, sir,” Joe answered. “They’re in 4-H Club.”

“I would have guessed that,” Mr. Nesbitt said, chuckling. “Well, these are young heifers that would make good 4-H entries.” Wearing a yellow glove, Mr. Nesbitt waved his large hand in a sweeping gesture to indicate the calves, all of which were peering at the newcomers and blinking their long-lashed eyes. 

In his mind, Robert had already selected one, and he hoped his choice would be one of his father’s top picks. The heifer had a happy expression, almost as if she shared Mr. Nesbitt’s jovial smile.

“Could we buy her?” Robert asked his father while pointing toward the merry calf.

Mr. Nesbitt said, “You have a good eye, son. She’s a blue-ribbon heifer if I ever saw one.”

“With your recommendation, we can’t go wrong,” Joe said. Turning to Robert, Joe asked, “Do you have a name for her?”

“I think she looks like Vicky!” Robert replied enthusiastically.

“Vicky?” Mr. Nesbitt chuckled. “Well now, that’s a good name for a cow!”

“We’ll be back to get her on a warm day. Do you need to mark her?” Joe wondered.

“No,” Mr. Nesbitt responded. “I’ll remember which one she is. She has buttons where horns want to form. That sometimes happens with polled Herefords. I’ll take care of the buttons so she looks true to breed. Which calf does your other boy want?”

Charles could not decide. Finally, he pointed at one.

“Now, that’s a good heifer,” Mr. Nesbitt said.

Robert felt uncertain about the choice, but he kept his opinion to himself. Skittishly hurrying to hide behind other calves and nervously changing direction, the heifer had a wary look in its eye.

“Do you have a name for her?” Joe asked Charles.

“No. I’ll think of one later,” Charles said.

Mr. Nesbitt invited Joe, Charles, and Robert into his kitchen, so that Joe could sign the paperwork.

On a table was a clarinet in a tan case. Robert stared at it as if mesmerized. For some time, he had wanted to learn to play the clarinet. When the members of the Pine Village High School Band performed in their blue uniforms with white braids, white stripes, and silver buttons, the clarinetists sat toward the front to the director’s left. Robert enjoyed watching them work the silver keys of their instruments. His cousin Connie was the first chair, and he wished he could grow up to take her place one day.

“Say,” Mr. Nesbitt said, reading Robert’s mind, “you wouldn’t know of anybody in the market for a clarinet, would you? My daughter wants to sell hers.”

Robert thought it was too much of a good thing to be gaining a lovely heifer, already a pet in his mind, and a clarinet—all in the same day! Robert said nothing, but Joe understood how powerfully he wanted a clarinet. One look at Robert’s not-daring-to-hope face told Joe all he needed to know.

“I guess we could consider the clarinet, too,” said Robert’s father. “How much do you want for it?”

“Fifty dollars,” replied Mr. Nesbitt.

All the way home, Robert carried the precious clarinet in his lap. His heart was racing. He could hardly believe his good fortune. He needed no further proof that he had the greatest dad in the world!

Back at home, Robert figured out how to slide the sections of the clarinet together. As he had no way of knowing how to arrange a reed on the mouthpiece, he could not play a note, but he considered the clarinet to be a glorious instrument. 

Learning to play the clarinet, though, was a struggle. Robert’s parents enrolled him in lessons at Mahara’s Music Center in Lafayette’s Market Square. For the first several weeks, Robert’s teacher, a young man named Mr. Baker, kept trying to help him make a note on the instrument. Robert’s breath escaped around the mouthpiece. The only sound was puff-puff-puff. Robert had that tingling in the cheeks that one gets from blowing up too many balloons. Finally, on a glorious afternoon, the clarinet emitted an enormous squawk! What a thrill! Mr. Baker breathed a sigh of relief, and Robert smiled from ear to ear.

From that day forward, Robert’s abilities rapidly progressed. That summer, Mr. Lee Davis, nicknamed “Weird Beard” because of his goatee that was similar to that of Skitch Henderson or Mitch Miller, began adding younger musicians to the high school band he directed so as to make it as large as possible for the competition at the Indiana State Fair. He accepted Robert into the ranks. Robert was going to get to wear the blue uniform with the silver buttons and white braids long before he was old enough to attend high school!

All summer, the augmented band rehearsed on a parade ground that had been marked off with lime stripes on the west edge of the school playground. The competition consisted of parade shows, not football field shows. The parade strip had been measured to conform precisely to the judging area the band would encounter at the grandstand in Indianapolis during the fair. From the moment when the front rank of the band crossed the starting line until the back rank stepped over the finish line, a stop watch counted the seconds. Going overtime would cost precious points. Mr. Davis had built an observation platform accessible by a ladder. From the platform, he looked down on the band to see if the lines were straight and to make sure that everyone was in step. Mr. Davis combined the best attributes of a disciplinarian, a musician, and a friend. He knew exactly when to crack the proverbial whip and when to sit back and laugh good-naturedly. Eager to please Mr. Davis, the band, over the weeks of practice, pounded the grass into powder. The white stripes that were formed with lime disappeared into the dust and more had to be laid down.

At one point in the music, the band members had to stand in place and slowly revolve until they were crouching; then they had to spring back up and begin marching again. The 360-degree spin was practiced over and over, until everyone’s hamstrings were sore.

The day for the bus trip to Indianapolis arrived. In the pre-dawn hours, band members arrived in the school parking lot. Clusters of students talked excitedly while parents milled about their cars.

Robert felt that the trip to Indianapolis was a dream come true—except when he gagged on the girls’ hairspray as they tried to force their big hair under their blue band caps with the white bills. Robert disembarked as quickly as he could and stood breathing the fresh air until his lungs cleared. He made sure that the decorative braided cords around the shoulder of his uniform were in the right place.

The long wait began. The line of bands wove like an anaconda among the buses parked all the way to the horizon. In those years, over a hundred bands of smaller schools competed on the day that the Pine Village band took part. Ranks and files of uniforms of every hue filled the vision.

The bands crept forward and waited, crept forward and waited. Ultimately, there were no more bands in front of the Pine Village High School Band. The track passed before a towering grandstand filled with spectators. Robert took a deep breath. Mr. Davis smiled encouragement to his musicians. Suddenly, the parade show started. Robert performed the notes and steps like a machine with no need to think about what he was doing. The instant the show was finished, Mr. Davis came running. “We didn’t go over!” he shouted, tapping his stop watch.

Later that day, the band learned that Pine Village was ranked in the top third, coming in ahead of far larger bands at far larger schools.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

1. The Fifth Grade ... THE FARM EAST OF PINE VILLAGE




This sequel to The Farm in Pine Village is also dedicated to my dear friend Eleanor Yeager Stewart, who helped me realize that the worlds of our childhood were never somewhere else but always right within us. Here is the rest of my childhood world—almost exactly the way it was!

The stars were aligning in a new configuration. Robert’s classmate Dennis had crowded among the 30,000 screaming fans in the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fair on Thursday the 3rd of September to hear the Beatles live on stage. Robert was not envious because the thought that his parents would have allowed him—under any circumstances—to attend a concert by long-haired musicians from England was so remote that he could not for a moment entertain such a wild notion. Joe and Ida had (however) permitted him to buy his first 45 RPM records, one of which featured “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on one side and “I Saw Her Standing There” on the flip side. Robert played the record over and over on his parents’ Victrola.

Leaving behind the steadiness of the unflappable Mrs. Winegardner’s classroom, Robert entered the topsy-turvy world of the mercurial Mrs. Leighty’s fifth grade. Mrs. Leighty was nothing if not passionate. Shorter than Mrs. Hail, Mrs. Arvin, Mrs. Moyers, and even Mrs. Winegardner, Mrs. Leighty had light hair that curled like comets away from her forehead and down the back of her head. Her eyes, from which tears could so easily spring, peered like suns behind fleeting clouds. Even more than Mrs. Moyers, Mrs. Leighty could not bear to paddle a student. She would catch a culprit disturbing the decorum of her class and have him stand beside his desk. Reaching her hands up to his shoulders, she would begin to cry. “Why do you make me discipline you?” she would ask with a meek, melancholy voice. Looking down at his feet and blushing from embarrassment, the student would mumble, “I don’t know.” “If you do that again,” Mrs. Leighty would say, tears streaming as her eyes roamed, searching his face, “I will have to punish you. Will you promise me that you will never do that again?” Still staring at his feet, he would say—almost inaudibly—“I promise.” “That’s good,” Mrs. Leighty would say, removing her hands from his shoulders, taking out a hanky, and wiping her eyes. “You may be seated.” Her method would work every time. What student could be so callous as not to be ashamed to have made such a sweet lady cry?

Robert absorbed Mrs. Leighty’s enthusiasm for learning. Like her, he valued education so highly that he deplored distractions.

One day after school, Robert came running down the driveway, through the white-board gate, through the side porch, and into the kitchen.

“We get to make the floats!” he exclaimed to his mother, Ida.

“Sit down here and tell me which states you have,” Ida said, while she stuffed “porcupines,” which were green peppers—she called them “mangoes”—filled with hamburger and other ingredients.

“I picked Wisconsin!” Robert said, swinging his knee up on a bent-wood chair and leaning his elbows on the table.

“You chose Wisconsin,” Ida corrected him. “You can pick a flower, but you can’t pick a state. Wisconsin is a good choice. I took summer courses at the University of Wisconsin after I earned my undergraduate degree at the Indiana State Teachers College. What’s your second state?”

“We don’t have a second state,” Robert said, resting his chin in the palm of his right hand and swinging his free leg. “Mrs. Leighty said our class is so big that each person can have only one state.”

“Charles had two states when he was in Mrs. Leighty’s class,” Ida said, spooning hamburger mixture into yet another hollowed-out mango.

“His class was only half as large as mine,” Robert said.

“Only half as numerous,” Ida corrected him again. “When your brother was in Mrs. Leighty’s class, the students were just as tall or as big as the students in your class.”

Attrition and the possibility of flunking out had done nothing to reduce the numbers in Robert’s class, which had presented Mrs. Hail, Mrs. Arvin, Mrs. Moyers, Mrs. Winegardner, and now Mrs. Leighty with the head-scratching problem of what to do with a room filled with too many students.

“You’ll be needing a shoebox,” Robert’s mother continued, pouring ketchup over the stuffed mangoes. “I think I have one. After supper, we’ll read about Wisconsin in the encyclopedia, and you can decide which industries to put on your float.”

“We have a long time before the floats are due,” Robert said.

“And there’s no time like the present to get started,” Ida said in her cautionary voice. “The early bird—”

“—catches the worm!” Robert shouted.

Ida’s face sank in a fake frown. “I ought to box your ears, interrupting your mother like that,” she said, holding up a fist, but bursting into a big smile.

“Do the fifty boxes parade around the room?” Ida asked, returning to the task of making supper.

“Mrs. Leighty said we line them up on tables and take turns talking about each one. I want my shoebox to look like a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.”

“You’ll be wanting bright colors then and maybe something that can move,” Ida commented.

After researching the State of Wisconsin on various occasions for the next few weeks, Robert narrowed down the choices of what he wanted to display on his shoebox miniature float for Mrs. Leighty’s class: the date when the thirtieth state was formed (May 29, 1848), a badger and a porcupine (animals not often seen in Indiana), a robin (the official bird of the state), a wood violet (the official flower), a sugar maple (the official tree), the Dells (rock formations cut by the Wisconsin River), the Port of Superior (loading ships with iron ore and coal), the Ringling Brothers Circus (Baraboo), the state’s eight thousand lakes, cranberries, and the dairy industry (especially cheese).

Robert’s mother provided supplies, including the shoebox, which she suggested he cover in eye-catching red foil to represent the University of Wisconsin. She taught him to fold the foil carefully into pleats to surround the bottom of the box.

“What can I do for the violet?” Robert asked, as he washed the Elmer’s glue from his sticky fingers.

“I have just the thing,” Ida said, disappearing into her closet and returning with a bunch of plastic violets protruding from a small white pedestal vase. Removing the violets revealed an air freshener within the vase.

Using his mother’s sharpest scissors, Robert carefully snipped purple violets, which he glued around the edge of the shoebox.

“What can I do for the Dells and the lake?” Robert asked.

“I have a round mirror that pops out of the compact case,” Ida replied. “You can attach it toward the front and let it be the lake. You can use a drop of Elmer’s to glue one of your plastic ducks to the mirror, and you can glue your plastic cow that has its head down so that it looks as if the cow is drinking from the water.”

“What about the Dells?” Robert shouted over his shoulder as he went to get his duck and his cow.

“You can cut the cliffs from corrugated cardboard stacked in layers, and they can go around the mirror. Why don’t you draw the badger and the porcupine on paper that you can glue along the sides of the float? You’re a good enough artist to draw those animals!” Ida said encouragingly.

“To have enough for both sides, I’ll draw the robin and the maple tree, too,” Robert said.

“Do you still have that sponge that was made to look like a wedge of cheese?” Ida asked.

“Yes!” Robert exclaimed happily. “I never put it in water, so it still looks like Swiss cheese.”

“We can put it on a skewer and stick it down through the cardboard cliffs,” Ida said. “That way, it can float above everything else and make a statement. Do you know what these are?”

Robert was setting his plastic cow and plastic duck on the table near the shoebox. He glanced over at his mother, who was holding a strand of red wooden beads in her hands.

“They’re beads,” Robert replied.

“Right now, they are, but, when we take them off the string, they’re cranberries.”

A huge smile lit up Robert’s face.

A yellow, blue, and red plastic freighter that had bobbed in the bathwater in the 1950s completed the float; when Robert flipped it over to see how best to glue it to the float later, he noticed the company name “Renwal” on the bottom.

“Instead of gluing it,” Ida suggested, “let’s tie a string around it. The string will go through a groove in the top of the box and will wrap around a spool hidden inside the box. Your father can use heavy wire to make a crank that sticks outside the box. When you turn the crank, the ship will move from one end of the box to the other.”

Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo the Elephant, and the Ringmaster (spelled as two words “Ring Master” on the lid) from Robert’s box of Disneykins represented the circus.

Robert devoted several evenings to the project of making drawings of fauna and flora and cutting cliffs from cardboard. He topped the cliffs with wooden pine trees from a toy collection he had outgrown.

All too soon, the day arrived when he was to take his float to school. To look upon the wonderful products of the creativity and the industry of his classmates confirmed Robert’s belief that he was a member of a great class. Mrs. Leighty was obviously pleased. She clapped her hands as each float took its place on the tables.

Before lunch, half of the students described their projects. Robert ran home for the noon meal and breathlessly told his mother how glorious the floats were and how he would have his turn to talk about Wisconsin after the lunch period.

Later that day, his ship cooperated when Robert cranked it forward, and he remembered everything he wanted to say about the thirtieth state. Throughout the two hours dedicated to the floats, Robert listened attentively to his classmates’ presentations about the various states, and he felt he learned a great deal in the process. The shoeboxes remained on display for a week, so that the other teachers would have an opportunity to view the students’ artistry. The experience was exhilarating and destined to be remembered for years to come.      


Saturday, October 20, 2018

40. The Surprise ... THE FARM IN PINE VILLAGE




Robert was fortunate to have been in Mrs. Winegardner’s class at that precise moment in history. Her measured viewpoint was exactly what was needed. Her class participated in her deliberate weighing of ideas in the scales of historical truth. Mrs. Winegardner was a gyroscope, keeping everything in balance.

Even with Mrs. Winegardner’s steadying influence, Robert well understood that the country had entered an epoch of upheaval. As Bob Dylan would sing that January, “ … the times they are a-changin’.”

It would remain to be seen whether the children of Robert’s generation could weather the storms that were yet to come. For a little while longer, the kids had to be kids.

When Robert had been in the third grade, the snows had been frequent and deep, but the winter of his fourth-grade year was unusually snowy.

… and cold! Whenever he took the first breath outdoors, Robert felt the linings of his nostrils crinkle as if they might freeze.

Robert had only recently recovered from his annual pre-Christmas flu. The roads were barely passable with drifting snow. The cold air rapidly drew the heat out of the multiple layers of winter clothing that Ida made the boys wear. Even so, she insisted that the family go for a ride.

Robert considered her perseverance remarkable in view of the weather. Robert’s father was all too ready to agree. What could have gotten into his parents?

All bundled up, Robert and Charles squeezed into the Chevrolet, which never felt warm for the entire trip to Attica. Robert wondered why Joe chose Attica, which was ten miles away, when he could have selected Oxford, which was only five miles away. A ride was a ride. On such a bitterly cold day, why go farther away when you could stay closer to home?

In Attica, Joe took roads that he did not typically follow. After a time, he pulled into an icy drive beside a farmhouse close to the town.

“Why are we stopping?” Charles asked, taking the words right out of Robert’s mouth.

“I reckon you’ll find out soon enough,” Joe said with that Bing Crosby twinkle in his eye.

Ida and Joe apparently knew where they were going. They circled the house and knocked on a side door, which a gray-haired man answered.

“I’ll be right out, folks,” he said. “Just need to put on my coat!” In a jiffy, he bounded down the steps of the side door and led the group to a white-painted outbuilding. The glow of red heat lamps lit the frost on the windows.

No sooner had Charles and Robert stepped inside the building than their eyes focused on a litter of black-and-white puppies! The boys ran up to the fenced enclosure that protected the puppies within the structure.

“We’ve already picked out one,” Ida told the boys.

“You mean we get to have one?” Charles asked.

“We’re a few days early, but he’s going to be one of your Christmas presents,” Joe said.

“Which one is ours?” Charles wanted to know.

The owner of the kennel pointed to one of the friendliest puppies. It was standing with its front paws against the wire and was yapping joyously.

“He’s yours,” the gentleman said. He turned to Joe, “And he’s had his shots and is ready to go.”

Without the boys’ knowledge, Ida had concealed in the trunk of the car a stout cardboard box with a blanket in the bottom. Joe brought it, and the wiggling puppy was placed inside. Ida closed the flaps. She carried the precious cargo as carefully as she could over the ice and snow and set the box in the center of the back seat. For once, Robert didn’t mind riding in back because he got to sit next to the box!

On the drive homeward, Charles occasionally lifted the flap a little, so that the boys could see their dog.

“Keep that flap closed,” Ida warned. “It’s too cold for a puppy to be exposed to the air, even in the car.” She glanced worriedly at Joe. “Do you think he’ll survive this cold trip?”

“Oh, sure!” Joe exclaimed. “Animals are tough—even puppies!”

“What kind of puppy is it?” Charles asked.

“It’s a male purebred smooth fox terrier,” Joe answered.

“A fox terrier,” Charles repeated.

As soon as the car pulled in beside the front gate, Ida lifted the box and practically ran with it into the house. She sat on the davenport before the Norge stove in the kitchen and pulled the puppy from the box. She held it in her arms to keep it warm.

“What should we name him?” Ida asked.

Robert looked at the big black spot on the puppy’s back and immediately said, “Spot!”—as if the name were obvious!

“That’s such a common name,” Charles said.

… but Ida intervened, saying, “Robert named him, and so that’s his name!”

After dinner that night, Ida was holding the puppy when it was time for the boys to go to bed.

When they awoke the next morning, they ran to see Spot. Ida was still holding the puppy. Joe had brought her a pillow and a blanket, and she had catnapped on the davenport with Spot in her arms. She had been reluctant to leave the puppy by himself, she had wanted to keep him warm, and she had decided to begin his doggy form of potty training right away.

Spot was a member of the family from that first night onward. On Christmas morning, he shredded wrapping paper, shaking it from side to side and growling. When the weather would permit, he romped with the boys in the yard. Charles and Robert helped him become accustomed to a harness and a leash—just in case he would succeed in penetrating the fence and would have to be chased down.

As Spot grew older and could spend more time outdoors, he proved that he was equal to the task of escaping and running downtown as fast as his legs could carry him. The boys would race after him on foot while Joe would jump in the car and drive after the puppy. Spot would look back and would seem to smile while he led everyone on such merry chases. Eventually, he would permit the boys to catch him, harness him, and lead him to the car—or Joe would simply hold open the car door and Spot would jump in!

When Spot first met Fuzz, now eight years old, the cat bristled to twice his normal volume while Spot, barking loudly, rocked back with his front legs almost flat on the ground. Fuzz slunk to one side before running off and flying through a gap between the boards of the fence. Spot could have caught him, but the dog didn’t even try. He was content to watch the cat make his escape.

He wanted to catch chickens, but the fence was too strong for him to burst through into the chicken yard.

Spot became a frequently photographed dog. Many a snapshot was wasted as he was faster than the shutter and was only a blur in the print that came back from Hinea’s Camera Shop in Lafayette. Other photographs captured him napping while draped over the arm of the davenport or posing with his paintbrush tail wagging beside the hollyhocks.

Spot was often the subject of Robert’s art, as well. Robert depicted Spot in a series of pastels, one of which Ida framed.

Spot was the greatest Christmas gift of Charles and Robert’s childhood.

One day, Joe was scraping the icing from the mixer bowl with a butter knife. In between mouthfuls of chocolate, Joe said, “Ida, I thought Spot would be my dog, but you’ve stolen his affections away from me. I now think that’s why you held him all night long the first night we had him.”

“Don’t keep scraping! You’ll scrape clear through the side of the bowl some day! Go ahead and give me the bowl,” Ida said, “so that I can wash it while I still have suds in the sink.”

Ida smiled as she submerged the bowl. “You may think he’s my dog, but I think he belongs to Charles and Robert.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” Joe said, “because he’s theirs.” Joe pointed toward the davenport. Ida looked, and there sat Charles and Robert with Spot in between. All three were sound asleep.


THE END