By George Brown
Last week I shared a story about my Dad’s boyhood adventures with his dog, Prince. Dad was born in 1918 and Prince came into his life in 1927. This week’s column is part two of Dad’s story, edited and abridged from a narrative Dad (“The Kid”) wrote in 1988 at age 70.
The stock market crash of 1929 was followed by some truly lean times for everyone, including the kid and his family. In the summer of 1931 the businessmen in town decided something should be done to lift the spirits of the community and, hopefully, attract folks to visit the stores downtown. The idea they came up with was to have a “Children’s Day Pet Parade.” Children were encouraged to sign up for the parade and to enter their pets in a friendly competition for prizes.
The kid didn’t consider signing up for the parade. He had nothing nice to wear, and besides, his dog Prince was just a mutt – a smart mutt but still a mutt. On the day of the parade the kid and three of his buddies were hanging around the garage at the Firestone Service Center. The owner, a fellow named Skinny, told the boys they were getting in the way and suggested they go to the parade. “Yeah”, one of the kid’s buddies said, “You can enter the parade and take Prince.”
“No way,” the kid said. He was shy and not about to be embarrassed by walking his dog in a parade with a bunch of rich kids and their fancy pets. But before he knew what had happened one of his buddies had grabbed a piece of rope in the garage, tied it around Prince’s neck, and they were off to the parade.
As luck would have it, they passed right by the registration table and one of the boys asked if there was room for a late entry. “As a matter of fact there is,” the man at the table said. “Entry #10 is a no show, come on and sign up.” Despite his strong protests, the kid’s buddies pushed him to the table and before he knew what had happened he had a card with a big #10 on it hanging around his neck.
“Keep that rope around your dog’s neck. All of the pets have to be leashed,” the man at the table shouted, as the kid’s buddies pushed him into the parade line. Prince didn’t seem to mind a bit about being in the parade. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. But as for the kid, well, that was another matter. He was wearing an old faded shirt, a pair of well-worn knickers that had holes in both knees, scuffed up shoes, and he hadn’t had a haircut in three or four months. His dark brown hair hung over his ears and curled up around the edges of his old cap, which tipped to one side. Not only was he self-conscious, but he was walking a scruffy looking mutt, of unknown origin, with a rope that was heavy enough to lead a cow.
All of the children were smartly dressed, and their pets were well groomed. There were lots of dogs, a few cats, a rabbit, a chicken, and one girl even rode a pony. The kid felt very much out of place and did his best to slip to the edge of the parade line, hoping he could find a spot to escape down an alley.
A band played at the front of the parade, followed by boys on bicycles with streamers flowing from the handlebars, and two fire engines brought up the rear of the parade. The kid’s buddies tagged along the edge of the parade line cheering him on. As they approached the review stand one of his buddies said, “Hey that man is pointing at you and writing something down.”
The kid could see a policeman standing near the man with the note pad and was sure he was in some kind of trouble. He looked away and tugged on the rope to pull Prince toward the far side of the street, but as he did the parade stopped moving so he just stood still, hoping no one would notice him.
A man walked over to the podium on the review stand and started to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, thank you for coming out today. We are ready to award prizes to the children and their pets.” The kid kicked dirt with his foot and looked away, only half paying attention as the man called out numbers and nicely dressed ladies led those children to the review stand to receive their prizes – most beautiful pet, largest pet, smallest pet, most unusual pet, and so on. Then he heard the man call out, “Would #10 please come to the review stand?”
The kid’s heart leaped to his throat and he froze with fear. Why were they calling him? There must be some mistake. Suddenly, a pretty lady wearing white gloves reached for his hand and with a big smile she said, “Come on little boy, he’s calling your number.” She led the kid and Prince to the review stand and directed the kid to stand beside the man at the podium.
The crowd grew quiet as the man announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to present this award for “Typical American Boy and His Dog. “The kid could hear his buddies whooping and hollering above the cheers of the crowd. Then the man shook his hand and gave him three envelopes. The kid thanked him and hurried back to his spot in the parade, smiling but still feeling very self-conscious.
As soon as the parade was over the kid ran home as fast as he could and gave the envelopes to his Mom without even opening them. The envelopes contained a certificate for some free dog bones from the butcher, a certificate to buy food at a neighborhood grocery, and a third certificate to buy clothing at a downtown department store.
The kid didn’t feel like he had done anything special to earn those certificates but he sure was glad to have them to help his family during those difficult times.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.