How much is that doggie in the window?


One of the chief delights of blogging is discovering writers, cooks, painters, photographers, teachers, and poets who delight and instruct you. One blogger who does just that is RAB at You Knew What I Meant. A multi-talented woman who also teaches college-level writing and literature, RAB draws from her collection of bloopers written by her students and comments about them on her blog. She ranges from serious and thoughtful to wry and funny. I learn something from her every day. If you go there, you will too, and you will not be disappointed.


Today I asked her to write something for my blog. Enjoy!

RAB and her younger sister: a little older but probably no wiser.

That parents would think their kids are special comes as no surprise: it seems to be part of the job description. I was blessed with parents who encouraged and supported their children while still trying to help them keep their perspective on their own achievements. But that didn’t keep my sisters and me from deciding we were, more or less, Infant Phenomenons. My parents’ smiles at manifestations of that were, I’m sure, part pride and part enormous amusement. And sometimes they also had to draw on what seem in retrospect to have been infinite stores of patience.


Here’s my most vivid recollection of one of those instances.


My sister and I were quite taken with the television show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Reading about it now, I find it was the #2 television hit show during the 1950s. People would come on the show and perform; at the end of the program the audience would applaud, and the applause-o-meter would indicate the winning act. Kind of like American Idol, but without the hoopla or the nastiness.


I imagine that, in what has become the pattern of televised contests, at some point in every show somebody explained the procedures and rules; but I’m not sure that anybody ever explained where the acts had come from. Helen and I reasoned that since the show was called Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, the acts must have been found by a band of talent scouts, whatever that might mean, who brought their discoveries back to Arthur Godfrey so he could put them on his show. And Helen and I formed the ambition not only to be found and brought back, but also to win the prize.


When I was six and Helen was three (and my other sister was yet to be born), my parents decided to make the first of what would be three family car trips to Florida. That was before Route I-95: they planned to drive from New Jersey to Florida on Route 1, stopping for meals etc. but otherwise driving straight through the night, alternating the driving between them. My father stowed the family luggage in the back seat foot wells and then laid a crib mattress down, covering luggage and back seat. This made a luxuriously spacious bed-cum-recreational space for Helen and me, with room for coloring books, a few stuffed toys, Weenie the sacred blanket (shreds), and bedding. There is no more magically comforting experience, I think, for a child than lying drowsily in the back seat of the family car, looking up at the stars through the back window, and hearing Mommy and Daddy conversing softly and seemingly far away in the front seat over the hiss of the tires on the ribbon of paved road. The drive down had that kind of magical peace, even when we were awake and trying to be the first to see a car with a Delaware…and then Maryland…and then Virginia…license plate.


Once in Florida, we cavorted on beaches and visited relatives and met some nice people from Michigan who were staying in the motel unit next to ours. And at some point, for some reason, we developed the plan for being discovered by Arthur Godfrey. This plan must have made the return trip from Florida to New Jersey sheer hell for our parents.


How do Talent Scouts operate, after all? Well, I knew what Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts did, having read about them and aspiring to join GSA (for the uniform): they hiked around, especially in the woods. They looked at things. They collected things. I had also read about Indian Scouts, who traveled around looking for bent twigs and other important things along the trail. So Helen and I figured that Talent Scouts probably drove the roads of America looking for talent. We were too young to have much of an idea of what went on in night clubs and the like, so it didn’t occur to us that the Talent Scouts might be traveling to look at actual ACTS. Our notion was, they kept their eyes and ears open for Talent wherever it might be—someone singing in church, somebody doing cartwheels in her yard, somebody tap-dancing with friends at school or maybe on the sidewalk. What more likely place for the Talent Scouts to be driving, we thought, than Route ONE?


Our plan was to get discovered on the way home to New Jersey. And so we insisted on riding with the windows open as we sang our best number, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” It was a pretty big hit at the time, and we fancied our rendition of it quite a bit, especially the “Arf! Arf!” part. No one in a passing car would be able to see Helen’s affecting gestures of desire as we peered through an imaginary pet-shop window, but our voices alone would surely cause any Scouts worth Arthur Godfrey’s imprimatur to shout over to Daddy and ask him to pull over and let them meet the Amazingly Talented Girls. Because it was impossible to know exactly where or when the Scouts would be driving by, we of course had to sing the song over and over. And over.


My parents made the drive from New Jersey to the Florida border in exactly twenty-four hours. I’m sure the drive home was faster.


I will love them forever for never once telling us the truth about Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, or asking us to call a halt to our naïve and lusty audition.