A Child of the Fifties

by Paul Schroder

Chapter 14

My buddy Jimmy and I had thrown open the door to my garden shed to find a big surprise inside. It was a dog! We befriended it by giving it a drink. Then it about licked us cleaner than a Saturday bath.

"Wow," Jimmy says. "I guess it likes us. What are you gonna do with the doggy, Paul?"

"I'm thinkin' Jimmy, I'm thinkin'."

"I'll bet it was one of my brothers that put it in the shed. But why didn't they tell our Mother about it? Mother doesn't know or she would have tol' me."

"Reckon we should tell her, Paul?"

"Nah. No sense getting my brother mad at me."

"Are we gonna lock it back up again, Paul."

Me n' Jimmy just look at each other. It doesn't seem right. It's like being in jail.

We look down at this little white dog with brown spots and it's looking up at our faces and wagging it's tail like crazy.

"I dunno, Jimmy. Do you suppose it would run off if we took it to the sandpile with us to play cars?"

Jimmy thought for a minute. He said "not if you fed it, Paul. It was really thirsty so I bet it's hungry too."

"Good idea, Jimmy. Stay here and pet it while I run into the kitchen and find something for it to eat."

Mother was in her bedroom folding clothes. So I quietly looked through our fridge. Aha... there's the left-over meatloaf our Dad didn't eat cuz he was tired when he got home. I grab it out of the dish it's sitting in, not thinking that an empty dish is a dead giveaway.

Running back outside I give half the meatloaf to Jimmy so we can both make friends with the dog. Jimmy smiles at me because we take care of each other.

"Here you go, sweet puppy" he says. We drop to our knees and take turns giving it small bites."

"Ha ha ha... Paul. If it wagged it's tail any harder its butt would fall off."

The food is gone and we're letting it clean off our fingers.

"I wonder if it's a boy or a girl?" I muse. "How do you tell on a dog?"

"I guess if it's got a wiener or not?" Jimmy muses.

"Well, I'm not putting my hand back there; I might get bit."

And then I'm laughing uproariously.

"What, Paul? What?" Jimmy's grinning, waiting to hear.

I catch my breath and say, "I just remembered that joke you told your Mother, Jimmy. You told her you wished you were a dog!"

"Ha ha ha ha... yeah!" he exclaims. "When she asked me why, I told her it was so I could lick my balls!"

We were laughing like crazy and the dog was jumping up and down, all excited.

"Ewww..." I say, upon reflection for a minute. "If it IS a boy then it means he's licked his balls and then licked us in our mouths."

Jimmy's eyebrows shoot up. "I never thought about that. But at least they aren't people balls and he keeps them clean."

I grin at Jimmy. "I keep mine clean. Wanna lick em?"

"Ha ha ha ha... Paul. Okay, if you can lick your balls first."

Man, we are just cracking ourselves up. We need to remember this stuff so we can tell Sam.

Finally, Jimmy just pats the ground next to the dog and he says "lay down, Poochy." And I'll be darned if it doesn't do it. Jimmy strokes its fur and it quickly rolls over on its back to get a belly rub.

"Check for a wiener, Paul."

"Okay, Jimmy, but the fur is kinda long. I might miss it if its as small as your wiener."

"Ha ha ha... poopy face! My wiener is as big as yours."

We're both giggling like crazy cuz... well, you know... wiener jokes!

"I'm happy to report that this dog is wiener free!"

"Come on Paul, lets grab our cars and go to the sandpile."

I grab both of our cases from the shed and we run for the sandpile... a cute dog bouncing at our side.

We were absorbed in our play for a half hour or so. Our doggy would lay on her belly and watch. Occasionally she'd wander around the field for a ways. I watched to make sure she didn't go far. Finally she had sniffed enough field to want to come lay on her belly and watch me and Jimmy.

We heard a sharp whistle from the direction of my yard. Me, Jimmy and the doggy all looked over there.

My brother Dick was standing in our backyard. He gave out another whistle. The dog, whose ears were perked from the first whistle, jumps to her feet. And now she's running towards my brother like a greyhound on a track.

So me and Jimmy trot over as well. Dick is on his knees scratching the dog's belly.

He looks up as we approach. "You guys scared the living shit outa me. I seen the shed door open and Patches was missing. I thought she had run away. But then I heard Jimmy making those race car noises and looked over at you guys. Thank God my dog was with you!"

He had given the dog a name and called her 'his dog' and, all this while, I was feeling attached to her. You know... like it could be MY dog. It gave me a kind of hollow feeling inside.

"If you loved SPOT" and I had immediately renamed the poochy, "then you wouldn't have left her thirsty and hungry in our shed."

Dick sighed. "I know. I left her with a bowl of water this morning. I had to go make some money so I could buy her some food." And he gestures towards a large sack of dog food sitting outside the shed.

"The guy I was working for was a prick and kept me longer than he was supposed to before paying me. But as soon as he did I rode my bike to the store and got a big sack of Doctor Ross Dog Food.

Everything he tells me says he loves Spot... I mean, Patches. And this is obviously his dog and not mine.

"Why didn't you tell Mother about Patches?"

"Paul," and Dick slides to his knees to be down to my level, " I was afraid our Mother wouldn't let me keep her unless I could prove I could take care of her."

I understood that. Our Mother was reluctant to bring any animals into the Schroder fold. Dick had numerous pets before I was old enough to keep account. It seems they all died of neglect. The ones I could recall, a gold fish and hamster, suffered a similar fate. The monkey got lucky.

"Help me talk Mom into keeping her and she can be your dog too."

Bingo...bango... bongo, the magic words! Heck yes! I already fell in love with Spot... I mean Patches. I would do everything to help us keep her.

I told Dick, "I heard Mother humming while she was folding clothes. I think she is in a good mood."

Dick says, "we'll walk into the house together. Jimmy can..." and he turns towards Jimmy, " keep Patches from going into the house until I whistle. You guys got that?"

Me and Jimmy both nod our heads.

"Okay, here we go!"

Dick pushes our door open and yells "Mom, can you come into the living room?"

The humming we could hear in the back of the house ceases, and Mother wanders out, folding a pillow case.

She looks from Dick to me. Dick gets ready to repeat an entreaty he has been working on in his mind for half a day now.

Mother beats him to the punch. "Did you get some dog food Dick, for your new pet?"

My brother, flabbergasted, is silent for a minute. He finally replies "I worked all day Momma to buy a really big sack of dog food."

He's silent for a minute and then asks, "how did you know, Momma?"

"I keep clothespins in the garden shed, Dicky. You know what I found when I went out to hang some sheets?"

Dick just nodded his head. But I was ready to ask why she wouldn't warn her youngest about an animal lurking in the shed.

Mother glanced from my brother to me and said. "I could tell the dog was a gentle soul but I wanted to see how your little brother reacted. As you well know, Paul doesn't get along all that well with dogs."

Dick grinned and said "shoot, Momma, he doesn't get along all that well with me either."

She grinned even bigger over that and then asked me "so, I guess you are here to help your brother to ask to keep the dog, right?"

My mother needs to wear a cape, smoke a pipe and carry a big old magnifying glass. She is Sherlock Holmes and Dick Tracy all rolled up into one.

I nod my head so fast I look like a woodpecker attacking an aluminum flagpole.

Well, we got our dog that day. Patches would come to live with us until she succumbed to old age, many years later, on my grandmother's farm.

That night Dick brought her into our bedroom and put a blanket on the floor for her. After Dick was asleep and snoring I made some "tich..tich..tich" sounds and Patches bounded up into bed with me. From that time forward she became a bed hog and I had to fight for every inch of my bed.

Me and Jimmy had Sam's bike turned upside down, resting on its seat and handlebars. We were trying to figure out why her front wheel wobbled. I watched my Father do this with my bike to check that my tire was running true and not wobbling. The problem is my tire WAS running true and so he didn't need to do anything to correct it. Sam's wheel, however, is wobbling like a drunken squirrel trying to cross a busy highway.

I looked at Jimmy, waiting for him so say something like "okay, I see what's wrong here. We need to ramiflach the doohickey to straighten the glomaslob." But, instead, he was looking at me like I was mister goodwrench. "Gaaaa"

Now, Sams's dad was gone for the day and so were mine and Jimmy's dads. I didn't know anyone else that we could call upon to fix a wobbly wheel. Then I thought about the Sinclair gas station that was a block or so from our house.

"My dad had his tire fixed at the gas station," I tell my friends. "If you've got some money he will probably fix your tire Sam."

"How much you figure it will cost?" She asks.

"I dunno. I guess maybe fifty cents or so."

"Okay, I got a dollar hid in my closet," she tells us.

Me and Jimmy turn her bike right side up while we wait for her to come out with her money.

When she's outside again, Jimmy asks her "who are you hiding your money from, Sam?"

"From myself," she says. If I have money I spend it on ice cream and stuff.

"Dang," Jimmy says, "a dollar would have bought three ice cream bars easy."

"Yup," says Sam. "Aren't you glad you didn't know I had it? Now we can fix my bike."

"I guess," Jimmy says, morosely, as we push our bikes over to the service station. We are closely followed by my new dog Patches, who sniffs out the entire world on our way to the service station.

This is a typical neighborhood gas station of the 50's. There are two gas pumps out in front of the building. The building itself has an office with an attached two car garage. One garage bay has a pneumatic lift so the mechanic can work underneath the cars. There are shelves of oil and lubricants and shelves of big ol' auto tires. High over head there are are pegs with fan-belts of different sizes.

As we approach the station there is someone operating a tire mounting machine. It's a teenager about my brother Billy's age. We wander up and watch in fascination as he puts a set of tires on some fancy chrome wheels. He sort of glances at us from time to time but doesn't comment.

"Those sure are purdy tires, Mister." Jimmy tells him.

The boy nods and grunts in agreement.

A car pulls up to the gas pumps and the boy runs over to it.

"Fill it with Regular, kid."

The boy gets the gas pumping and then checks each of the man's tires for air pressure and then, finally, checks the oil level.

"Nine gallons mister," after he closes the car's hood. "That's two dollars and fifty two cents. The oil is okay."

The man hands him a bill and he runs to the office and gets change out of the cash register.

"Here you go mister. I noticed your fan belt was pretty cracked. If you want I could change it out for you real quick."

The man just shook his head no and drove off.

The disappointed teenager finally looks over at us.

"So, you guys obviously want something. What do you want?"

"Ahhuumm..." Sam clears her throat. "The front tire on my bike is all wobbly. Can you fix it for us Mister?"

Being called Mister twice by some kids must have been a bit of an ego boost to this under paid gas station attendant. He told us to bring the bike into the garage bay.

The teenage wanna-be mechanic turned the bike upside down on its handlebars and seat, just as Jimmy and I had done. Then he spun the front tire with his hand. It wobbled like crazy.

"Whoa Nelly. What did you do to the tire kid?"

"We kinda got into a bike wreck," she explains. So he loosens the wheel assembly and straightens the tire. He gives it a gentle spin and then straightens it a bit more. When he's sure he has it straightened, he tightens the bolts. One final spin shows it running true.

Our helper saw how absorbed me n' Jimmy were in watching him. He grinned at us and says, "there, I'll bet if it gets loose again you boys will know what to do, right?" We just smile and nod. How simple some things turned out to be after a little bit of coaching.

Sam pulls the dollar out of her pocket. Jimmy sees it and sighs. The attendant takes the money and says, "wait here while I go get you your change." Sam looks at the two of us and scrunches up her shoulders as if to say "can't expect him to work for free."

Well, the change he brought back was four ice-cream bars! It seems they had a freezer in the office. Even Patches got one! I guess not all teenagers are booger heads after all.

The Saturday matinee was over. The three of us were walking to the drug store, about a block from the theater. We kept one dime in our pocket just for the phone. When we were ready we could call my Mother and she would send Billy to pick us up. We were walking to the same drug store that I would go to when my Mother and I visited my Grandmother Schroder. She would send me there to buy a comic book because I got bored listening to her and my Mother talk.

Sam was hop scotching across the sidewalk. "Step on a crack, break your Mother's back," she intoned, as she skipped over the expansion joints in the concrete.

Jimmy asks, "what you doin' Sam?"

"Well," she explains, "if I step on a crack then I break my Mother's back." She tells us this between hops.

Me n' Jimmy stop and look at one another in abject panic. I know I've stepped on numerous cracks as we walked the half block or so from the theater. The look on Jimmy's face says "I'M A MOTHER KILLER!" And he seems about ready to fall to pieces. He bursts out bawling!

Sam is a couple of feet ahead of us and doesn't notice we are no longer following her. But when she hears Jimmy she swings around and looks in our direction.

"I'm gonna run ahead and use the phone at the drug store, Jimmy. I'll check on our Mommas, okay?"

Sam was about to say "wait," but I was off like a shot. I was being careful to have my feet land in the center of the cement squares.

"Aww... shit." Sam says. "Stay there Jimmy. It's okay, and I'll be right back."

She takes off like a shot, running behind me. She isn't paying any attention to the felonious cracks however. She probably murdered half a dozen mothers by the time she caught up to me.

I'd just reached the drug store door when Sam ran up behind me. "Paul... STOP. Stop, stop stop!"

I turn around and look at her, my eyes as big as beacons.

"It's not real, Paul. It's not real. It's just a silly thing to say. It's a game. You don't really hurt your mother!"

I thought about what she said and took a deep breath. I was starting to feel really, really foolish. I was upset at myself for believing something so silly and unlikely. Then I looked into the drugstore and saw him. I saw the druggist that guarded the comic book rack like it was gold at Fort Knox.

My mental wheels started turning and turning. I looked at Sam and said, "go get Jimmy, Sam."

Then, thinking for a minute, I said, "never mind. Let's both go get him."

On the way back I was careful to step on every expansion joint and crack in the sidewalk that I could see. This didn't go unnoticed by Jimmy who took a huge breath and seemed to visibly relax. Then he looked at Sam and gave her the finger!

"I'm sorry, Jimmy. It's just something I learned when I was little." Sam explains.

"Say guys," I tell them, "that old druggist is a grumpy old man. He don't let no kids look at comics in the store. But when you go in with your Mother or Father he doesn't say anything to you while you look through them. Let's wait outside until a grownup is heading for the door and go in with them. If the druggist thinks its our parent he'll leave us alone."

"Paul, you're gonna be in the mafia when you grow up." Sam tells me, with a big smile.

"Nope, I'm gonna join the FBI. Then Dick won't dare pick on me."

We've been walking towards the drugstore as we talked and as we got close we saw a lady that looked like she was heading for the door. We rushed up to beat her to the door and Sam held it open for her.

"Thank you, Sweety." The lady says with a smile. We three follow her in and stay close behind until we see the druggist look us all over. When I think we've given enough time to fool him I beckon them to follow me.

"Okay guys, let's read some comics. We should be safe until the lady leaves."

Jimmy is giggling while he pulls a comic out of the rack and plops down onto the floor to look through it. Like me, he can't read much yet but we can still follow the action in the pictures. Sometimes we make up stories to go with the pictures and read them to each other. I figure we are a regular comedy team.

Sam can read real good cuz she's going into the third grade. She reads to us sometimes. She's standing up to read while I've joined Jimmy on the floor.

"Hey you kids... Hey, what do you think this is, a library?" Pick a book to buy. You don't read them here, you read them at home."

I stand back up and can see the lady at the other end of the store, looking through the shelves.

I try to fake him out. "Hey, mister. That's not a nice thing to say with our Mother getting ready to buy a bunch of stuff." And I point over towards the lady.

He sort of slides his glasses up his nose and cocks his head towards me. Then looking over towards the lady he says, loud enough for her to hear, "Excuse me Miss. Would you mind stepping over to the counter?"

I gulp and I figure our goose is cooked. Both Sam and Jimmy have put their comics back into the rack.

"Yes Henry, what is it?" She asks him.

"Will you please tell these children who you are my dear?" He requests.

She's walked up to the counter now and looks towards us after she hears the man's request.

"Why, I'm Mrs Jones, children. I'm the druggist's wife."

He tilts his head back and he's laughing. But what his wife says next stops him mid laugh.

"You go back to reading your comic books children. I think that "no reading" policy is going to be changing around here!" And she turns to her husband with a commanding look to her eye.

Well, Henry Jones just huffs himself up and then seems to swallow his pride.

"What do I know," he grumbles, "I'm just trying to run a business. Let them bend the covers and smear them with chocolate so we can't sell them."

"Oh, for crying out loud, George. You know the distributor gives us credit for what doesn't sell. They aren't moneymakers anyway. They are here to make good will. Now, come help me take inventory."

We told my Mother what had happened and she grinned. She'd been in that store a time or two. Well, Mother took the time to make a nice looking sign for us to take to George the next Saturday. He read it and smiled. Then we watched him hang it on the comic rack. It read... "To read the comics, show me your hands are clean. ~The Druggist" We never had any more troubles after that.

Jimmy says you should write to us. I said you probably won't. Don't disappoint Jimmy.

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