How much is that doggie in the window?

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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.

 

24 thoughts on “How much is that doggie in the window?

  1. millodello

    I am up early today hoping yet again to be discovered. Its cool out today but the rolled down windows is such a good idea for the ride to work. With luck I won’t have to punch in.Thanks for the tip. Y-S and RAB.

    • I’m still trying too. Actually, if you’re driving along and your lips are moving, it’s a good idea to roll down the window so other drivers can be reassured that you’re not raving insanely to yourself, but just singing….

  2. Great post. It brought back similar memories of my sister – and of me singing my heart out on my lawn swing one summer. My sister was on the look out for Perry Como – convinced he would drive by and discover my mellifluous tones. But alas I remain undiscovered to this day.

    • Isn’t it a sweet thing to think you live in a world where the great and powerful wander through everyone’s everyday lives and understand the gift of a singing child?

  3. What fun memories! We also made a family trip from the northeast to Florida with my brothers and I singing, “Tie me kangaroo down, Sport” all the way. Except as children, we didn’t understand the words correctly and it came out, “Tiny kangaroo down, splat!” with “splat” being said/sung/shouted every time we passed a car going the opposite direction. My long-suffering mother was driving alone with my father flying down to join us later. She finally gave us each a lifesaver and announced a contest to see who could make it last the longest. My elder brother caught on first that the way to win the contest was to hold the lifesaver between his teeth. It’s very hard to sing with a lifesaver held between the front teeth!

    • I’m helpless with laughter here with those great song lyrics! Come on over to my blog and read about Mondegreens (or you can find whole sites devoted to them)—innocently substituted words that overshadow the original version. I’ve got a long drive this afternoon and will find it hard not to yell “splat!” at passing cars.
      Meanwhile, what is it about Florida?
      Clever mother, not to say anything that would repress your enthusiasm.

      • Ruth, It’s all because of you that when the first answer to Sunday’s New York Times crossword puzzle was “SPLAT,” I laughed so hard I spilled coffee all over the puzzle.

  4. I am always amazed at the creativity of parents who do not resort to yelling. Makes life so much more fun. My mother was always alert to be one step ahead so she could avert being carted off to the loony farm.

    • I used to have a theory that the hospitals gave new mothers a crash course in What To Say To Kids. That would be why they all say things like “Don’t cross your eyes; they’ll stay that way,” “Always wear clean underwear, in case you have to be taken to the hospital,” “You’ll put somebody’s eye out,” and other words of wisdom. Maybe they SHOULD give new mothers a crash course in how not to yell.

  5. My parents were like this, too. They supported me and my talents, but never allowed be to be full of myself of obnoxious.

    Your parents must have had some patience to listen to that for all those hours! I suppose that they probably thought it was cute. It sure does sound it.

    I love, even now, being in the back seat alone – especially at night. Watching the stars and streetlights whisk past. It’s all so dreamy. And sometimes you get those dreamy purple clouds that are just sublime. I love driving in the dark (being driven, that is). Especially with the heaters on full blast. It’s so cosy and warm!

    It’s a shock that you weren’t scouted! Maybe the talent scouters weren’t working on that day, ahah :>! Great post!

    • At the time, I thought everybody’s parents were like mine. I know now that’s not true. But I still WISH everybody’s parents were like mine. We’re the lucky ones.

      • Yes, we are D: I hate when parents scream at their children for no reason. Particularly young ones, because they’re just helpless and if they’re really so bad, you should have raised them better 😡 It sounds harsh but I don’t think there’s any excuse for being a selfish parent.

  6. Amy Louise

    Love this story RAB. You are a wonderful and ever so talented woman. The next time I drive back to CT from Florida I hope you are in my car too.

  7. What great parents. I loved car trips. My brother and I spent a great deal of time marking an imaginary boundary across the back seat, and punching each trespass. It continued until the 3rd, “Don’t make me stop this car.” Thanks for the memory.

  8. We didn’t go on any super long road trips when I was small, but I certainly remember the back seat of the car being made up into a comfy nest where my sister and I could play. We’d often curl up and have a nap too – the motion of the car was a guaranteed sleep inducer.

  9. This brings to mind, the boy we were all in love with as children. John would sit atop the tall wooden post in our yard singing “Feelings” as we fawned at his feet, knowing that someone famous was going to walk through our quiet neighborhood looking for a boy who could sing with such skill. I am not too sure that he shared those aspirations, but it the idea of it surely fueled our girlhood fantasies.

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