By Lou Storey
I hated Dick and Jane.
As a poor reader, I was sent home with the Fun with Dick and Jane series for the summer so I could catch up. Each book illustrated a simple story of family fun using the “look-say” method of reading that helped young readers build their vocabulary. Key words were repeated, and only a handful of new words were included in each book.
My disdain for Dick and Jane irritated me to the point that I’d scribble my purple crayon all over their faces. “Have fun with that,” I’d think, while struggling over “Dick-has-the-ball.” Things began livening up for me at last when Tip, their dog, found his way onto the page. Tip was bad. He barked and did not come when Jane called, “Come Tip, come!”
I loved Tip.
“I’ll take away that crayon if you keep scribbling,” my stepmother Ellen scolded, incredulous that one little boy could be so dense. She’d married my father, inheriting me and my older sister Lynn while adding her daughter Anne to the mix.
Each morning before I could escape the house, I had to stand and read aloud while Ellen sat impatiently at the Formica kitchen table pretending to listen, chain-smoking Chesterfield cigarettes, the brand “preferred by professional smokers.” I mostly made up the narrative from the pictures, keeping it simple but struggling a bit to ward off suspicion. However, when Tip appeared, my curiosity demanded I attempt to translate those letter formations.
Toward the end of the summer, I was finally on the last book, Run Tip Run.
“Jesus, a whole summer of this and your reading is even worse!” Ellen shouted. I knew she was fed up with more than just me. But a whole story about Tip! I just had to decipher every single word. Tip ran out of the house (yes, run Tip run!) and across the street. Someone is moving away. Tip sees an open moving van. Tip runs up the ramp. BANG, the doors slam shut. Tip is in the dark. The End.
“What? Why doesn’t he bark? How is this the end?” I was bereft. Ellen ignored me, stubbing out her third cigarette.
“You’re done. That’s the last book. Go play.” She’d had enough.
Heading out the back-screen door, I thought of Tip, alone, frightened. Naughty Tip. I saw Dick and Jane wagging their righteous pointer fingers at him, always telling him what to do. Tip, lost in the dark, forever. The fate of those who don’t behave. Despite the hot sun, I felt a chill sinking past the thin of my shirt, through goose-bumped skin into my bones. The world became unsafe that day.
Before returning to school in September, a moving van showed up at my house, and with it, Ellen and Anne were gone. I didn’t cry then. Many years later, as a grown man, I came across Run Tip Run in a used bookstore. In my excitement, I quickly flipped to the end of the book and discovered that pages from my copy had been missing.
In those final pages, Tip barked and barked. The doors swung open. Tip ran all the way home.
That’s when I cried.
Lou Storey is a visual artist, storyteller, and retired psychotherapist living in Savannah, Georgia with his husband of thirty-three years Steve, and a happy bounty of dogs, cats, and chickens. Lou’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times’ “Tiny Love Stories,” River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things,” Beyond Queer Words anthology, and various academic journals related to LGBTQ older adult health, creativity, and mental health.
Photo by Michał-Parzuchowski at Unsplash