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.