North Coast Journal


Days of little red wagons

by Miv Schaaf

As he so often does, Denis Mackail has once again set me wondering. He is a grand English writer of the early '20s of whom no one but me seems to have heard. A young woman, hearing an airplane, comes out to wave at it, he writes.

We did that as children in Michigan, quite convinced that the aviator was waving back at us. (They were called aviators then; my twin brother had a golden aviator badge. DEPT. OF AVIATION, it said; BOY - but very small - and FLIGHT COMMANDER over an airplane charging through puffy clouds on a golden shield. Cereal companies gave real prizes then.)

When did airplane waving stop? And train waving - I seem to be the last grown-up waving at trains.

Odd, how progress seems to complicate even children's play. Building blocks: Their fun tolerance has toppled from teens to toddlers in my lifetime. Digging: Kids dug in backyards for fun; now, with gardens, they do not dig.

Playing with the dog: "Yes, Virginia," mothers said, "Go out and play with the dog," and you did and it was fun. Playing with the dog no longer seems to be a definite play thing to do. What abysses of disappointment we have opened for ourselves and dogs as a result. It is no wonder dogs of my childhood seemed to have more character, more quirks, more idiosyncrasies.

"Bingo would do that, it's just like him," we'd say of Simpson's dog, granting him the same privileges of personality we did his housemates.

So many dogs now are just dogs. Sure, their owners announce pedigrees and we are supposed to be interested if not impressed, but when Dagmar sits there looking dully at us with no spark of give and take, no humorous comeback, no visible attributes other than his state of Afghan-ness, how are we to be interested?

It is as though we were to be introduced to Miss Hempel - "of the Harrogate Hempels, you know." We would expect Miss Hempel to brighten up a bit, to smile, to bark - I mean, to say something. Her Harrogate-ness alone does not make her pleasant company.

It is our fault, not the dogs'. We do not play with them, talk with them, expect a response; we have turned them into canine civil servants, dull dogs, ownership objects with no commitment to be unique. And we have robbed them of themselves by overbreeding.

They have forgotten they are dogs first and Afghans or whatever by pure chance, just as we are people first and Italians or Africans or Chinese by pure chance. (Did you know puppies in purebred litters are destroyed because of a bent ear? They are - another subject.)

Dogs have distracted us, have they not? Dogs have a way of doing that; that is part of their charm. I did not mean to be depressing, discussing the decline of dogs and simple play. After all, they still manufacture red wagons, and children play with them. Not as long or as enthusiastically as Marc and I did perhaps. Still, a good little red wagon is hard to keep down. It will be a while, I think, before they, like waving at airplanes, will be a thing of the past. -END-

Miv Schaaf, now a Fieldbrook resident, wrote a column, Things, twice a week for 15 years for the Los Angeles Times.

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