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Looks Doggone Good, It Does

by Sally Jennings

Ever thought much about those little things in life that trigger a whole line of what's that fancy saying again - yeah, that's it - major life events. Little stuff that leads to major life events. I get lots of time at work to think on life, minding the counter of Pete's Precision Auto Parts. Like today, sitting here in the steaming July heat, waiting for my next big parts sale. Hear all the honkin' and yellin' and barkin' out on the street just now? Well it sure takes me back.

Little things, big changes, like ingredients in a mix. I figure now and then a minor player in life is like a dollop of hot sauce that changes a dish to a completely different flavor.

There was Mrs. Bell's parrot Fancy, who escaped out the kitchen door and clean pecked apart a perfectly good, pricey mayor's chain of office some fool left on the dias at the library's pancake breakfast. Parrot wanted a family and was into practice nest-building. Took a while before anyone figured out how to get the town hall's weather vane unwrapped again, which led to a biggie in Junior Stevens life. Went all giddy from fear of falling off the town hall roof unwrapping that dumb weather vane, and left roofing altogether to become a veterinarian. Keeps both feet firmly planted on the ground now.

And that medallion from the mayor's chain made it all the way to the bottom of the town hall boiler chimney ash trap and triggered another biggie. Seymour Jones fished it out, shirt caught fire, burnt his arm. Had such a good time at home for two weeks of sick leave that Shelia ended up with another bun in the oven. Nine months later, welcome baby Adam Jones, courtesy of Worker's Comp. All because of a loose parrot with family fantasies.

Anyway, on account of her parrot Fancy's misstep, Mrs. Bell had nighttime asthma attacks until Pink Petunia, the Holtons' orneriest prize sow, rescued her from never-ending infamy by planting a good head butt into Victor Ortiz, the volunteer Fire Chief, at the annual Hooper Valley 4H Days. Got him right in the solar plexus, she did. Sent him flying head first into the boards alongside the weigh scale, knocked him out cold. Caused a little problem in logistics, since Vic was also the volunteer Head Paramedic.

"So now who was going to save Vic?" you might ask. Lance and Billy, volunteer Paramedics two and three froze up without Vic barking orders at them until someone managed to jumpstart them by yelling commands tied to "Vic says..." Vic, he made it out okay, but the wisdom of dual-duty volunteer roles was up in a major way for public debate after that one.

Then there was a little lull in public misdemeanors, of oh, a couple of months or so. Until, that is, the Dunsmore boys took up reptile raising, on account of a Benny Wismer dare. Dunsmores went exotic and bought a baby python in the city, named Choke It. They blew their allowance budget on frozen mice until Milly Dunsmore said "No more defrosting mice in my fridge!" and Sherman Scully offered free dump admission if they would bring Choke It in once a week to hunt rats up at the recycle shed. Lots of rats up there. Used to be, that is.

Well, that seemed to work okay, but after a couple of months, the Dunsmores dared Benny back to sneak Choke It down to the pond in Heritage Park on a moonless night. Had to coordinate with a day Choke It was nearly ready to eat; not supposed to handle him when he was full. Laid out a circuit, they did. Benny had to kiss the window glass on Librarian Fotheringham's bedroom window, swing on Doc Edge's front porch glider, soap Principal Fuller's patio door, and thread through the Sheridan's five garbage cans. Don't make a sound, don't get caught, keep your pants dry. Be right behind you, watchin'.

Choke It was way heavier than Benny first thought, so he was all tuckered out when he made the pond. He didn't know, but the snake had a rock-a-bye nap the whole trip, and was a rarin' to go. He was supposed to baptize Choke It by immersion. Well the dippin' in worked okay, but the raising back up met with problems. Benny found out wet hungry snake's wigglier than all get out and dark shiny snake's a dead ringer for dark shiny pond water. The others waded in with him and they did a lot of grabbin' at nothin'. They thought they heard Choke It pop a few frogs from the far side. All happened quicker 'n you can say G-O-N-E gone.

Did I tell you the other side of the pond from the park is heavy underbrush shot through with poison ivy? Wasn't too many would relish wading through that mess beating the bushes for a missing snake. Figured his appetite would bring him back sooner or later.

It did. Came back hankering for a taste of miniature poodle puppy, as in Dotty and Smitty Shoemaker's type of breeding poodle.

In multiples.

At least that was the common suspicion, when Smitty Shoemaker, three puppies short and fit to be tied, called the Dunsmores reporting a bumpy python sunning himself real close to the puppy run. The youngest Shoemaker kid bawled for three weeks straight from the horror of it.

Funniest thing, that python went bonkers a little while later. Finally Freckles Dunsmore took the snake and a shotgun on one last trip out, up to the dump. Carla Kendall was offloading some of her mother's chartreuse shag carpeting from the den makeover when she happened to notice Freckles gutting that dead snake. And here inside were those three puppy ID tags, made in China. Lead poisoning, that's what really fried that snake's brain. Carla went straight to Dotty Shoemaker and blabbed.

The Dunsmore kids had to work after school for a year to pay for those Shoemaker puppies, oldest one had to quit the ball team so he never did get back on track for that sports scholarship he'd been counting on. Quit school after Grade Ten. Youngest one's headed the same direction, fast as he can get there. And Wismers, well, Sandy Wismer couldn't stand the way Dotty Shoemaker was back-stabbing her, so the Wismers had to move clean out of town. It came down to that or packing Benny off to a boarding school, which Sandy couldn't stomach.

I can take you up to the dump sometime and show you where they buried Choke It. Big pile of tire irons just about there. Dunsmore kids still tie a ribbon on one from time to time, looks like a real pretty cross.

See, just a little booboo, and life's all rearranged. But I'm wandering all over here, better get back to my story. That noise out on the street puts me in mind of a bright July morning here a few years back, when the smell of my favorite Double Whammy Cinnamocha, just like the one I have right here, was wafting out of the new espresso bar in Baron's Baked Goods and Other Fine Foods.

I was just outside Baron's with a cup of that espresso in one hand and the Hooper Star Chronicle in the other when a primer-coated Mustang the Brooks kid was rebuilding circled the block. Jimmy was hunting an easy parking spot. Delia Brooks, well she was teaching Jimmy to drive on weekends, but that kid couldn't parallel park to save his life. Scooter, his Pa, reddened right up, anybody dared mention it, but shot back that something could be said for leaving the car paint off till Jimmy passed the DMV road test.

Across the street from the Bakery, laying bets on the number of passes Jimmy would make around the block were Grandpa Simmons, Brute Jones, Old Man Daley, and Muffin Hartwell, hunkered down on the bench outside Halliwell's Drug and Variety, joshing and drinking coffee. Old Man Daley's coffee was likely laced real good, but we'll leave that be for now.

The Wiggins twins were outside their mama Daisy's beauty shop, The Hair Apparent, squealing through a game of tag around the big horse chestnut tree. Grandma Wiggins told Grandpa Wiggins he never should have planted that tree way out there, pridnear in the street, got too big, blocked folks' view some.

But Daisy's customers, baking between the sun through the windows and the blast of the hair dryers, didn't mind the shade from that horse chestnut. At this moment, Tony was under the dryer, and Babs was shampooing Betty while Daisy finished Phyllis's bangs with a curling iron. The gossip was thicker than the hair on the floor. Sometimes when the door is open wide, I sit a while on Daisy's bench under that tree and learn all kinds of things I wouldn't otherwise know about Hooper life.

But pay attention, now. If you take a look over Billy Chetwynd's front yard fence, three houses down, you'll be looking just about where you should be. See Billy's dahlias there? He's won prizes at the county fair twenty years running with those. Treats them gentle like you would kids, babies ‘em. I was strolling by those very dahlias that morning, headed for the park bench over by the tea roses, when the commotion started.

I saw the bushes waving like crazy, and then Billy yelled from his front porch "Take off!" Just about split my eardrums, Billy did, shouting at that dog, belonged to the Peabodys, digging up his dahlia bed. Peabodys never could keep that thing chained. Grabbing a corn broom and a red towel off the back porch, Billy waved the rag in a circle around his head, plunging down the creaking steps and screaming, "I said scram! Now move it!" Billy's all bent over and has rheumatism bad in both knees, but when he takes a notion to, he can really move. So, for the sake of his dahlia babies he lunged for the dog.

The dog got whacked good once with the corn broom and took off whimpering, rushing through the front gate and barely missing Bethany Grimes pushing two-year-old Janey slumped fast asleep in her big fancy stroller. He trotted through the parked cars and disappeared in among those garbage cans you can see in the alley between the Post Office and the Bakery on the far side.

Bossy Bethany (you know the kind, becomes a mother and all of sudden gets to be an Advocate with a capital A on a mission to straighten out the universe) anyway, Bethany got her back up at Billy's bellowing while her Janey was trying to sleep. She had just started into her standard shush harangue, when there's this Dixieland melody floating up from somewhere down in the pawed dahlia leaves. Dee, dee, deeee, dee, dee, dee, deeee, deeee, dee, deeee.

Billy broomed out a piece of shiny bright debris from the dahlias.

"Cell phone" know-it-all Bethany chortled, "the dog must have picked it up somewhere. Well, aren't you going to answer it?"

"Don't know how." Billy muttered, fumbling as he tried to hand it to her. It dropped with a clatter on the sidewalk, skittered under the stroller, and started ringing funny. "Oh cripes, now look what I did. Hope I broke the blamed thing," he groused as Bethany bent to pick up the phone.

The phone woke Janey up as her mother grabbed it under the stroller, but Janey's crabby hollering was nothing compared to the ruckus started up from the garbage cans next to the Post Office across the street. Ruckus as in female screams, loud whacking, and dog howls.

Wasn't long before the noise spilled out into the street: a tall, good looking young woman holding the squirming Peabody dog by the scruff of the neck. "Bad dog, where's my phone? Bad dog," scream, whack, dog howl, scream, whack, dog howl.

Everybody up and down the block turned to look, and the day picked up some. For starters, she had on dark glasses and three or four spangly neck scarves, neon pink stilettos, and a long, winding toga-like thing in between. None of us knew her yet, but Francine Beaujolais had just made her first appearance on Main Street. Francine, as in Franny, Judge Barton's granddaughter. We'd heard tell of her for years, but never laid eyes on her. Wasn't from around these parts.

Francine's mother, Cecilia, had jilted Smitty Shoemaker just after high school, and made off for life in the big city. Ran out of money and got stuck short of her goal in a small, small, city. Her daughter Francine inherited her big ideas, and sweet talked Grandpa into springing for art school tuition. She had lots of artsy type friends, out to dress the world in designer costumes.

In a confidential little heart-to-heart chat, Sherry Davis found out later that the outfit Francine had picked out from her suitcase that morning, mostly to impress her Grandma Barton, was Stephan's "Roman Inspiration with Attached Hardware". Her friend Stephan didn't often mention it, but he spent summers at his uncle's auto body shop and wrecking yard, a major influence in his present work. The toga featured chrome goodies from Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota. I'd like to meet Stephan someday. I'll bet he's my kind of person.

I can tell you, being in car parts myself, Francine and her getup certainly caught my attention, and I was not alone.

Daisy now, she loses track of the whole world studying any new hairstyle that shows up in town. So the moment Francine stepped into view, Daisy lost it. Curling iron in hand, she nearly fried off all Phyllis Headley's bangs, the way Phyllis tells it. Phyllis has her lucky stars to thank Tony Carson had the brights to slip from under the dryer and pry the iron from Daisy's fingers. You ever smelt burning hair? Peeyew!

The Wiggins kids perked up some watching Francine, thinking about show and tell in September, and how they could work this one in. One of them ran into the house to find the disposable camera that came in the cereal box that morning.

The four gents ruminating down at Halliwell's all shifted to take in the scene, and the coffee cups trembled some. Grandpa Simmons and Brute Jones, being at the far end of the bench from the action, jostled for position, and shot their canes out over the sidewalk to prevent their view from being blocked by passersby.

And then there was Jimmy Brooks. As Francine stepped into the street, he rounded the corner in his Mustang, and seeing all that car hardware eye candy just two hundred feet in front of him, yelled out the car window, "Looks doggone good, it does!" and honked, using his new Yankee Doodle melody horn. Then in a hormonal flush, he instinctively revved her up, flew past Francine and vanished around the bakery corner, very nearly on two wheels alone.

A string of happenings usually has one thing that's a tipping point, and thinking back on it, this was the tipping point: as the Mustang raced by, Francine was so startled she dropped the Peabody dog.

That blamed dog grabbed an o-ring chain floating around the garment at knee level and the bottom tier of the toga hit the pavement with a clatter. That was the beginning of a good deal of clankity, clank, clank, punctuated by Francine's wails "Wait, you bad dog. Bad dog, let go." That background audio through the whole fracas had a real beat to it, that's what most I talked to remember.

Did I tell you Lance Peabody got that dog from a circus? Dog had flunked out as an amateur hoop and hurdle performer, trained to do this act with a scarf and all. Used to perform for the kids up at the elementary school until Principal McTeague got her microphone cord chewed right through, middle of assembly. The youngsters just loved it, but Mavis McTeague, being who and what she is, put an end to that rumpus. My youngest had her for Grade One, I should know.

Well anyway, the Peabody dog began to enjoy himself with Francine's toga. He grabbed real good hold of a rear view mirror support bracket fused onto a peekaboo grille fragment at thigh height, and began to back in fast circles. Francine twisted in her stilettos, but she got turned in the wrong direction. The length of that toga surprised 100 percent of everybody I checked with since. Stretched almost clean across Main. Must have been heavier than chain mail to wear.

The Brooks kid, by now on his next circle of the block, was headed straight for Francine's side, hoping to cruise to a graceful stop and make a real impression, when those Wiggins kids backed their wagon out from behind that big chestnut tree. Jimmy had no choice but to swing the wheel. Seeing the toga spread out like that, he was too surprised to brake, so he ran right over it, but thank God, missed the Wiggins kids and Francine. Mustang caught a headlight ring from the toga knee area on its tailpipe. Have to say, whatever that car hardware was attached with, it was darn good stuff for holding up under stress.

Now, Jimmy might be a different man today if he had been able to find the brake, and had been born into a different family. But such is life. Old Man Daley, raising up from his bench outside Halliwell's, proved every last soul right, suspected his coffee was laced with something hard, and yelled "Floor it!" Did I mention Old Man Daley is Jimmy's grandpa? Well anyway, Jimmy couldn't find the brake, so he obeyed Grandpa, and stomped on it, and the Peabody dog's teeth let go, and Francine's hands let go, but that Mustang didn't let go, and clear around the bakery corner it went, till it disappeared, that blamed toga dragging from its tailpipe.

I swear, you could hear jaws drop all up and down Main, just clickety, click, click. That toga might have had a Roman influence, but it stopped there. Francine had nothing ancient on underneath. It was all brand new. Rough estimates place outlay at about $400.00 for the under-wardrobe. If you want a breakdown, you'll have to ask Daisy or the Hair Apparent girls for a detailed itemization. As I understand it, Babs Frum researched mail order catalogues she found at her uncle's place in town and can quote probable makers, colors, and costs.

I must say, Francine looked good in all that stuff, too. She made for her car, wobbling in those stiletto heels just long enough for that Mustang to round the corner again, and Jimmy, at a loss for words looking at her now, yelled a repetition "Looks doggone good, it does!"

Notice how the Post Office and Bakery are smack across Main from Halliwell's? Nearly had four cardiac arrests in front of Halliwell's. Francine lit out for her car parked behind the garbage cans in the alley, and Muffin Hartwell got such a good look, he shot his teeth a good ten feet over Halliwell's front sandwich board Specials sign, and they landed smack inside Theresa Almond's new leather shoulder bag before she could snap it shut. Pastor Almond, guiding her by the arm, should have seen those teeth coming. If he had been looking anywhere but where everyone else was, that is. Which he wasn't.

A car door banged, and a car squealed out of the alley behind the Post Office. Sniffer Davies caught a glimpse of Judge Barton's Lexus racing down Pine, and then Francine was gone. Jimmy made a few more circles of the block, dragging the toga to the hoots of his Grandpa and his cronies, but the flavor had evaporated from the scene. Word at the pool hall is that later that day Scooter, Jimmy's Pa, or if you believe Daisy's crew, Delia, Jimmy's Ma, talked Jimmy into going by Judge Barton's to return the toga and apologize. He handled the car parts so reverently, Francine was impressed.

Turned out they liked each other. Later, turned out they loved each other. Turned into she gave him a kiss, and he gave her a ring, and they said "I do." Considering the history of their union, I was privileged to consult on working some car parts into the wedding bouquet and floral arrangements, a design technique I truly believe is vastly underrated in the outside world. And that Mustang got furry seat covers, deluxe trim, and new paint the bride picked out.

What reminded me, that ruckus outside is Jimmy and Franny and their kids in that Mustang. They're out there a honkin' and a yellin' at some folks they know. Hear their dog barking from the back seat? That's a Shoemaker bred dog. What's that you say? Yeah, sounds just like the Peabody dog, doesn't it. Shoemakers gave up poodle breeding. Found out the Peabody dog had a pedigree. That one you hear is from the second litter. Franny insisted on an obedience school graduate. I kid you not.

So, see how a little thing can trigger a major life event? Who would have thought the Peabody dog would encounter a "Roman Inspiration with Attached Hardware," wrapped around such a woman, right here in Hooper, and change lives forever.

Oh sure there was some sacrifice, Franny had to give up going to art college and the big city lights, but the ones that say Jimmy's got her eating out of his hand have it all wrong. Tell you a little secret, come here closer: you never, ever, ever, would have caught any other Brooks male, dead or alive, at the wheel of a gussied-up Mustang painted fuchsia pink. Looks doggone good, it does.

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