Growing up, my favorite author was Albert Payson Terhune. Sure, it was a mouthful, and none of the other kids at Shawsheen Elementary School had any idea who he was. But I did. He had a dog.
And, for all intents and purposes, Lad was my first dog.
Oh sure, it sounds nuts. But I was a shy kid, growing up practically animal-less on the mean streets of Tewksbury, Massachusetts. I had to hold on tight to all things semi-normal. And if that meant growing up in a big house with a grand yard in a place called Sunnybank (actually, Lad just thought of it as ‘The Place’) with a firm but fair gentleman called ‘The Master’, and his wife (you guessed it, ‘The Mistress’) then so be it! Look, Lad loved them both very much, so I did too. And I also loved his mate Lady (whom he had won in a fair fight with a show collie named Knave), and his little son, Wolf, was a cutie (at least until he went all patricidal on Lad, at the urging of that awful Rex).
Oh yes, I remember it all. Books meant survival, and I hung on for dear life.
I’ve previously mentioned that I grew up on Pringle Street (and we laughed at the fact that my last name is Dingle. Which you can chuckle at again now (I am)). Pringle Street was on the south side of Tewksbury (on the south side of South Street, in fact). My family, along with many others, moved there from places like Somerville, and Medford, and Malden, and Charlestown when the Route 93 expansion was completed in the early 1970s. My street was a most bizarre mix of people and backgrounds, and was populated by folks who’d last lived mostly from somewhere right around Boston. On Pringle Street, many of us kids were experiencing a house without a paved backyard for the first times in our lives. Come to think about it, though we imported a lot of old, city traditions, we also left behind a few. Like the Bathtub Mary.
What? You didn’t have Bathtub Mary in your childhood?
Maybe you could create one now, so your life isn’t devoid of all things good.
Bathtub Mary is a nice statue (plastic or ceramic, it doesn’t matter) of the Virgin Mary that gazes gently at passers by from the inside of an upturned white cast iron bathtub, the bottom of which is partially buried (to ensure it doesn’t fall over) in the postage stamped lawn by your front steps. Really, anywhere on your property would be okay, but by the front steps is preferable. Plus the rest of the yard is paved anyway. And the front guarantees that all passers by can see your piety on display. Before you curse at them without using the letter “r” at all.
As in: “Yah muthah whey-ahs ahmee boots!”
Or, more crassly, “I don’t ca-yah whey-ah the %^&$ yuh frum. Get off my $#%^in’ lahn!”
Anyway, as I said before, the absence of Mary could explain a lot.
Because I could have used some more blessings back then.
That being said, I did survive the death highway in front of my grandparent’s house every Sunday after church. And I survived many a long car ride, seatbelt-less (and most likely with my sister or younger cousin on my lap). Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure checking the date on canned food – or even the printing of dates on cans – wasn’t in vogue until at least 1979. And since all fresh vegetables came from cans in Tewksbury, maybe I was blessed a little. Oh! And then there was the Chipmunk Incident of 1973.
What – you didn’t read about it in the Globe?
Okay, but just quickly because we have the rest of the essay to get to and I don’t have all day.
My friend Jackie Sharkey’s mom took her to visit her older sister (Jackie’s older sister was so old that she had a kid of her own. It was always mystifying to me that Jackie was an aunt even though she was the same exact age as me). So, anyway, she wasn’t home when I knocked on her door and so I had to find something to do by myself. So I went for a walk in the woods, up the trail behind Jackie’s house. But not as far as Climb-On Rock Field or Pussy Willow Pond because that was too far. So when I got to the fork in the path, there was my cat named Fluffy. And, hey, Jackie wasn’t home and Fluffy was a good substitute so I went over to play with him. And he had something. And it was a dead chipmunk.
A really smart dead chipmunk.
So I went over to Fluffy and said something like, “awwww….why are you in the process of dismembering this wonderful woodland creature, Fluffy?” when, all of a sudden, this brilliant chipmunk SPRUNG to life…
And ran up my pants.
Not kidding. Not even a little.
The chipmunk ran right up the leg of my pants and settled into my bum area for the terrifying joyride that it must have endured as I screamed at the top of my lungs all the way home.
I was clearly screaming very loudly, because I remember my mother coming out to the back porch and mouthing words to me that I couldn’t hear because of the aforementioned screaming.
I ran around to the front of the stairs, and the whole neighborhood of moms were probably on their front porches by now, and my mother was trying to figure out why her daughter was screaming and pointing to her ass. So she finally did what any mother would do.
She pulled my pants down – in front of the entirety of Pringle Street.
And the chipmunk ran right into the kitchen.
And my mother proceeded to not let me pull up my pants and she even bent me over so she could see if chipmunk teeth had punctured my bum. So – probably due to the screaming kid and shriek from my mom as the chipmunk ran into the house – but to my way of thinking completely due to the fact that there was free admission to the public to view my naked bum for one day only, people started running over!
What happened next was a mix of neighbors rushing in, brooms coming out, flashlights to see into dark corners, and free bum viewing.
Along with a crafty cat positioning himself right at the bottom of my molded. cement front steps, complete with the curvy – and tetanus-shot threatening – sharp wrought iron railing.
And, yes, when that cute little chipmunk finally shook himself out of his catatonic state underneath my mother’s Naugahyde blue sofa, and made a dash for the open front door, Fluffy was waiting for him, and I saw it all.
Let’s just say that Fluffy wasn’t making the same mistake twice.
That chipmunk was never to escape up the leg of an unsuspecting seven year old again. So, turns out I was indeed blessed (must have had just enough of a dose of the Bathtub Marys before I was relocated to the suburbs) because I didn’t get bitten and I did not need shots in my belly for rabies (which Mr. Sharkey, who had arrived home by this time, was explaining all about, to a terrified me, as the Great Chipmunk Hunt was going on).
Moment of silence for the chipmunk that ran up my pants.
I’m going to end it here. We started with a lovely story about how Lad of Sunnybank was my very first favorite dog and I was going to get all sentimental about it, and you were probably settling in for a poignant session (maybe even requiring a tissue or two), and now look what’s happened.
I whole-heartedly apologize to you, the reader, for not being focused and bringing you the touching story you were seemingly promised with the very first sentence of this story. I also apologize to Mr. Albert Payson Terhune, may he rest in peace, who was my favorite childhood author. In addition, I apologize to the Blessed Mother Mary, who was by all accounts a humble person, and probably wouldn’t be insulted by bathtub-based adulation at all.
And I apologize, from the bottom of my heart, to one really freaked-out chipmunk. Who’s last hero journey ended in the jaws of my cat, Fluffy.
And began in the seat of my pants.
Thanks for readin’
p.s., here are a few extra photos of Mr. Marshal Dillon Dingle’s photo session with my favorite childhood book. He has no respect, and his manners are questionable.