Tag Archives: boyhood

The Book Scavenger

(Starting a new series of blogs where I write about not only the books I enjoy, but how these books came into my possession.  I hope to be able to share finding selected titles, the cost (because I’m always looking for a deal) and the connection a person has to his/her books.)

Books are not just items to read.  In many ways, books are comfort food, ever-lasting friends and, even, trophies.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about someone, well, reading books and I hope you’ll share with me your own experiences.  We can have a dialogue on Facebook as to why the printed word, bindings and covers are so important to many of us.)
The Book Scavenger

I love books.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed reading, and having, books.  It started with the Hardy Boys, that venerable institution of boy detective stories that began its run in the mid-18th century, I believe, with its first few stories written by Benjamin Franklin.  Ben fancied himself a detective ever since he solved the Mystery of the Missing Rum Barrel, at the First Meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774.  (Spoiler Alert:  John Adams had hidden it in the belfry so members wouldn’t be drunk by the time he was scheduled to speak near the end of the program.)

By the time I got into the series, in elementary school, I had discovered the school library, where two books stood out, Little Britches by Ralph Moody, and a biography of the great Sauk warrior, Chief Black Hawk.

Little Britches was what we now call historical autobiographical fiction.  In it, Moody told the tale of his family’s move from New Hampshire to Colorado, when he was about 10.  His father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and it was hoped the dry air would help his father’s breathing.  Mostly the book was a story about a city kid finding his way on the ranch.  It resembled Green Acres, now that I think about it.  The family from the city bought the worst farm in Colorado, the Haney farm it was called.  Crops wouldn’t grow. The ground was hard as a rock and they had no real water source.  They had no experience being ranchers, so they were destined to fail.  The difference between the Moody family and the Douglas’ was that Oliver and Lisa were incredibly wealthy and the Moody’s were poor.

But for a kid my age, roughly 9 or 10 years old, it was a great story.  Because Ralph was my age during this time of the story, I related to him.  He did everything I would have done.  He went a got a job at one of the more successful farms in the neighborhood.  He learned to farm properly, learned to ride horses and worked side by side with some real cowboys.  It turned out Ralph had a real knack for handling horses and became a real expert with them.  When his father eventually died from his illness, Ralph, just barely a teenager, became the man of the family, and a series of book were born.

I found out there were eight books in Moody’s series, and I tried to find them all.  I found most of them at the library, but a couple have eluded me all these years.  I still hunt for them at used bookstores.  I believe I own four of the books in my library, and have read seven of the series.

The biography of Chief Black Hawk, founder of the hockey team in Chicago, was an interesting book to me.  As a kid, I had no political leanings, other than thinking that Jackie Kennedy sure did look different than Mamie Eisenhower, but as I read the book and read about the injustices done to the American Indian, I knew that wasn’t right.

Black Hawk was the leader of the Sauk tribe in Illinois and Wisconsin.  He fought against the American movement west of the Mississippi, until, of course, the white man figured out that bombing everything in sight might win them the battles.  Black Hawk didn’t go down without a fight, though.  He fought with the British during the War of 1812 (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) and in 1832, he played a major role in a war so big they named it after him – The Black Hawk War.

I’ve never been able to find this book, however.  I have no clue as to the author, but if you run across a young adult biography of one of the greatest Native American chiefs in history, let me know.

The Rest of the South Wall of the library at the Hatfield Ranch.

So, back to the Hardy Boys.

The books began their publishing life in 1927 and were written by F.W. Dixon, a pseudonym for Leslie McFarlane and others, although the Hardys were created by Edward Stratemeyer, who had also created Nancy Drew and Tom Swift.  All told, there are 58 original books with 38 revisions of the originals.

The books I got were revised versions with blue covers and, as I found out later, had been updated to reflect the 60’s.  No, Frank and Joe didn’t burn their draft cards or smoke pot or listen to the Grateful Dead (although it wouldn’t have hurt Frank who was always uptight).  They were clean cut kids, the sons of a famous private eye, and who always did their homework and were in bed by 9:00.

Now this is where the collecting part comes in.  On the back covers of these Hardy Boys books, the complete list of titles was shown.  I think at the time I was reading the books there were maybe 20 of the revised editions available, so I had reference to what I wanted.  As a kid, I read as many as I could get my hands upon, which was a lot, because the books were priced kid-friendly and they were readily available.  I also had the chance to read some of the older books because a friend of mine across the street had them.  He was an older teen and had outgrown them and gave them to me.  I still have them.

My mother didn’t seem to mind me wanting those Hardy Boys books, so I milked it and got practically every book on the list, with one exception.  I never could find The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which purportedly, revealed how you could become a detective just like Frank and Joe.  When I was in the 6th grade, I became friends with the brother of the cutest girl in my class who had a copy of the book and he had actually gotten hold of some Plaster of Paris and had made a plaster cast of a footprint!  If that wasn’t detective-ing, I didn’t know what was!  We hung out a couple of times trying to decide what kind of detective work we wanted to do and it kind of fizzled out when he wouldn’t sell me the book.  I still don’t have that book.

But I had a Hardy Boys collection that rivaled anyone I knew.  I think I stopped reading the Hardy Boys when I discovered James Bond in the early 1960’s.  In 1962, the first James Bond movie, Dr. No was released and the paperback racks were flooded with reprints of the Fleming novels.

I somehow got my hands on Peyton Place by Grace Metalious.  It was a giant best-seller in the late 1950’s and copies were readily available, especially after the television program launched in the early 60’s.  It was certainly a different style of book for me and though I could tell the writing was a bit clunky, it was steamy enough to be interesting.  I didn’t read another book of that type until Valley of the Dolls came along.

Bookstores were an anomaly to me at the time.  Other than the library, I really didn’t visit any bookstore.  The library was where you went to get hardbacks because every corner drug store or newsstand had a rack of mass market paperbacks that adults bought.  Most of the paperbacks were 25 cents, with some costing 50 cents.

I remember the biggest department store in Cincinnati, Shillito’s, having a large book selection.  Later, I went to Kidd’s Bookstore downtown, with four floors of books, and then discovered this place called Ohio Bookstore and nearly next to it Acres of Books.

Ohio Bookstore is still in existence and it can be both a treasure trove of used books, and a frustrating collection of books, depending on what you’re looking for.  The guys there are great and can generally tell you where a particular book might be.  They have a nice collection of paperbacks and several tables of mass markets.  Prices are reasonable too.

My favorite used bookstore, back in the old days, was Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books on Main Street in downtown Cincinnati.  There were at least three floors of books.  It was the kind of place I’ve always loved:  Dimly lit, the musty smell of used books fragrant in the air and the chance that dust would cloud the space above your head when you touched a book that had sat there for months, even years.

I bought my first copy of Moss Hart’s Act One there.  It was one of the books that changed my life.  The store had at least six copies on the shelf and I had my pick of the best.  The prices were very good, too.  It was a feat of endurance to browse the entire store on a semi-regular basis.

(I later found out there was an Acres of Books in Long Beach.  I was in Long Beach in 2010 and passed an old building with “Acres of Books” on the front.  I found out that Smith had opened this store decades ago, until the space of taken for area redevelopment, the same as his location in Cincinnati.)

So where do you go for used books these days?  A few places in Cincinnati are great for browsing.  Dutenhofer’s in CliftonHeights is a good place to start, and although I don’t like their premium pricing, I still go there.  The aforementioned Ohio Book Store is a must visit.  There used to be a place in the Mohawk area on McMicken Avenue call The Bookstore and owned by a University of Cincinnati professor.  The hours were so random and the store had no real days and times that it became frustrating to visit on the chance that they were open.  I haven’t been there in a couple of years, so if it’s open, let me know.

Bonnett’s in Dayton, Ohio is great for book and pop culture lovers, although the store is in closed quarters, so if you’re claustrophobic, you may want to avoid it.  But it has that used book smell that is as appealing as a bakery on a spring day.

Half Price Books has several stores in the area and I like to go to every single one because the mix is different at each one.  They used to be better when they first opened because their inventory consisted largely of the books they bought from customers.  Now, they have a ton of remainders and promotional books and, when I visited one store this past weekend, J.K. Rowling’s new book for sale in a promo shipper for 20% off regular price.  (The irony is, when the book becomes a cut-out due to over printing and sells for pennies on the dollar, Half Price Books will already have the inventory in stock.)  But, I can always find books to buy there, especially in their clearance section (which used to be a dollar, but are now two dollars.)  Look for coupons and special days of sales, which make it worthwhile.

But I mostly love the thrift stores.  St. Vincent DePaul stores are better than Goodwill, which are better than Valley Thrift.  Some of the St. Vincent DePaul stores have hundreds of used books, priced at 50 cents for paperbacks and $1.00 for hardbacks.  They also have specials frequently and the selection is good.

I do shop at Betterworldbooks.com and thriftbooks.com and I check out Amazon and Abebooks (owned by Amazon now).

I’m not opposed to reading books digitally.  I have several books on my Kindle Fire and a couple on my laptop.  If I find an interesting e-book, I will read it and then look for a hard copy.

Good luck with your book hunting because that’s the thrill of scouring used book stores.  Discovery plays a big part in going to used book stores.  The chance to find a book and be able to say, “I didn’t know there was a book on that!”  Finding the one book that has eluded you all your life and suddenly seeing it on the shelf is a feeling that cannot be conveyed.  But if I get there first, I’m going to buy it before you.

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The Day the Sheriff Shot My Dog

The Day the Sheriff Shot My Dog
by Greg Hatfield

From the earliest recorded annals of history, man and his best friend, the dog, have always been connected.  In the great Greek poem Homer’s Odyssey, there was the story of Argos, the loyal dog of Odysseus, lies waiting to see his master once more, following a twenty-year separation.  Once proud and frisky, the dog is now old and sick and hanging on by a thread.  When Odysseus arrives, disguised to attack his enemies, Argos immediately recognizes him and it’s time for him to die.  This was later made into a now lost 1929 silent movie, Argos of Olympia, by the great German director G.W. Pabst, starring Louise Brooks and a young strapping Huntz Hall, with no less than sixteen stunt dogs playing the part of Argos..  (They would copy the same formula a few years later, in 1943, for Lassie Come Home, where an incredible 248 stunt collies — all male –played Lassie.)

Also lost to history is this tidbit.  It seems when Homer was writing the Iliad, there was a lengthy chapter devoted to yet another dog, Fidox, who happened to be a big fan of the Trojan War, and even participated in scouting missions.  This chapter was lost to the ages, after it was cut by Homer’s editor at the time, Maximus Perkins.

In 1999, well-noted archaeologist, Dr. William Clayborn Jackson Jr. III, has drummed up the financing needed for a dig in a little known area of Thebes, hoping to find the tomb of Fidox, who was buried with warrior honors and a bone made of gold the size of Rhode Island.

We’ve since learned the only thing standing in his way is a T.G.I. Friday’s, which was recently erected on the exact dig spot, and open to tourists, so the dig must be confined to when the restaurant is closed for the evening, and only dug by TGIF’s employees, making it difficult to gain any momentum.

Of course, Walt Disney has made a nice hunk of money capitalizing on dogs as characters.  Pluto and the Tramp immediately come to mind.  I think no one really knows what Goofy is.  Jack London, whose estate keeps him active with a lively Facebook page, recently tweeted he liked dogs better than humans, and his characters White Fang and Buck will soon be appearing in Jack London on Ice.

Sappy dogs, like Winn-Dixie and Toto, too, and the worst offender of them all, Marley, also permeate the literary and cinematic landscape.

But my dog was different.  Sure, everyone says their dog is different and unique.  It’s inherent of every owner.  But the dog that I owned as a kid was indeed different.

His name was Ruff, named after the dog in Dennis the Menace.  He was a cur.  I never really knew what that meant, but my mom always referred to him as “that ugly cur dog” and all of the many dogs we have throughout my childhood were curs.  My Aunt Alice brought Ruff to us one day following a trip to the country.  Our previous cur, Cindy, had died, and my aunt knew we needed a dog.

My Dad was always hoping that one of the dogs would be the great hunting dog he always wanted, but generally they were lacking in the skills that good hunting dogs needed, like tracking ability and a certain stealthiness.  My mother really didn’t like dogs.  She refused to have them in the house and made them sleep outside their entire lives.  Of course, when she wasn’t home, I always let them in to warm up or play.

I was at the right age, probably ten years old, when Aunt Alice dropped off the puppy that I called Ruff immediately.  I claimed him for my own and spent all my free time with him.  He was a great playmate.  He chased the stick, not really bringing it back, but I could wrestle it from his mouth and throw it again.  We played in the woods that surrounded our neighborhood.  The woods weren’t that extensive, just enough for a kid to get lost in them, build a secret camp, and wile away the hours.

In those days, our neighborhood was still serviced by milk trucks and vegetable and fruit trucks and other services that have gone by the wayside.  Ruff’s weakness was that he chased cars.  I yelled and yelled for him to stop, but to no avail.  It was useless to protest, cause no matter what we were doing, Ruff’s ears would perk up and he would take off like a rocket whenever one of the trucks would rumble down the street, barking endlessly until the truck would get too far ahead.  He could be in a deep sleep, snoring like dogs do, but instantly wake up when the roar of the truck approached and zoom to the curb to bark and chase the vehicle.

One day, Ruff got a little too close to the milk truck and the front bumper clipped him on the hind leg.  It was fortunate that he wasn’t killed.  I was there and saw the whole thing.  The milk driver didn’t even stop.  He just kept going as I screamed and shook my fist, “You hit my dog, you bastard!”  We weren’t customers.

Ruff was howling from the pain.  I could see he was limping.  As I approached him, he took off and went into the woods.  I chased him, calling his name and I could hear the rustling of the leaves as he made his way though the foliage.  And then it stopped.  I panicked.  What if he was dead?  I called him repeatedly, looking everywhere.  I scoured the woods for what seemed like an eternity, but couldn’t find him.  I went home, crying hysterically and waiting for my Dad to get home.  My Dad took it in stride.  “I told you something like this would happen if he continued to chase cars,” he said.  Well, it wasn’t my fault.  I had told Ruff, too, but short of an intervention, there seemed to be nothing that could be done.

The days went by.  Each morning, I stood with the empty dog food can, calling his name, banging on the bowl, annoying the neighbors.  When I got home from school, he was the first thing I looked for when I got off the bus, and I sacrificed my homework time (that really wasn’t too much of a sacrifice) to search the woods looking for what I assumed was his dead body.  Days turned into weeks.

And then one day, just like that, when I went outside, there he was.  The reunion between dog and boy was as glorious as a returning soldier to his family.  I hugged him and scolded him and was so thankful he was back to me.  Then I saw it.  His right leg was raised in the air.  He was walking on three legs.  When my Dad saw it, he explained that Ruff had let the leg heal on its own and he had learned how to walk and run on three legs.  There was no need to take him to the vet, he explained, because Ruff had taken care of himself the only way he knew how.  That’s why he was gone all this time.

It didn’t seem to bother him.  He ran and played just like before.  He still barked at the trucks barreling down the street, but didn’t seem to get as close to them as before.  He was still social.  He played with other dogs.  There were a lot of beagles around the neighborhood and they had that tracking acumen that my Dad found elusive in his dogs.  Coming out of the woods, the rabbits were plentiful, as rabbits are wont to be.  The beagles would sniff them out and give them chase.  Now Ruff’s skills as a sniffer weren’t that great, but he would let the beagles do all the work in that department, and then he would take off like a rocket, outrunning the short-legged beagles with his three good legs, and getting to the rabbits before any of the other dogs.  They never actually caught one, though, just making the rabbit stop and cower before they lost interest and took a nap.

In those days, glass soft drink bottles could be redeemed for 2 cents and penny candy was plentiful.  The place we went to cash in our bottles was Burt’s store.  The name of the store was H&S Hillcrest, but I never heard anyone call it that in the years I went there.  It was run by Burt, coincidentally enough.  His sister and brother-in-law also worked there, but they weren’t as likely to give you an extra piece of candy like Burt frequently did.

Burt’s was just up the field through our backyard and just on the other side of the firehouse.  You then had to cross a very busy two lane main street, the thoroughfare that went north/south where the speed limit was 45 mph.  There was no cross walk or light or anything that indicated a crossing, but everyone who walked to the store took the same route through our backyard and across the street.  You had to be careful and not be too impatient when waiting your turn.  Your time would come and you could then dash across the street where the penny candy awaited.

Ruff and I had made the trip dozens of times.  Each time, he sat patiently at my side while we waited for the zipping traffic to subside and we could cross the street.  On this day, I had my hands full with bottles.  The neighbor had just thrown them out with his trash and I was fortunate enough to retrieve them.  (I’m thinking this is a skill that will come in handy later in life.)  So with bottles clutched to my chest and one in each finger, Ruff and I made the trip to the store to cash in.

When we were at the street, it was busier than usual. Cars on either side were going back and forth at what seemed to be a high rate of speed and the bottles shifted against my body and I was fearful I would drop one of the precious.

Just then, a bird flew over our head and Ruff saw it and gave chase.  As he did, he darted out into the traffic, where a Lincoln Continental slammed on his brakes, making a horrendous sound, but to no avail.  The dog hit the front bumper and was dragged underneath, as the car scrambled to stop.  I dropped all the bottles and screamed “RUFFFFFFFFFF!!!”  But it was too late.  Ruff, barely breathing drug himself to Burt’s parking lot.  He didn’t whimper.  There was no sound.  His tongue was out of his mouth.  He was panting and I was at his side, petting him, not knowing what to do, frantic and helpless all at once.

Burt had come out to see what all the commotion was about and quickly went back inside to call the police.  Cars had stopped on the highway to see what was going on and there was getting to be quite a back-up.

I heard the police car in the distance getting closer and closer and Chief of Police Lindo Foster pulled into Burt’s parking lot, lights flashing, sirens blaring.  Chief Foster was a big Irish man, easily 6’6”, 250 pounds.  He had bright red hair and a ruddy complexion.  A perfect Chief of Police for a just developing suburb.

He came over and assessed the situation.  He began clearing the traffic and when that was cleared, he came back to me in the parking lot.

“It looks bad, son,” he said.  I looked up at him and nodded.  Burt came back out.

What do you think, Lindo?” he asked.  Lindo scratched his head.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I don’t think there’s anything we can do for him.”  The Chief leaned down to me, pulling me away from Ruff.

“He’s pretty much tore up inside, son,” he said to me. “I think the best thing for him is to quickly put him out of his misery.  Do you understand?”  I looked up, tears spilling out of my eyes, falling on the parking lot.

Burt looked at the Chief.  “Whatcha gonna do, Lindo?”  Lindo went to his police car and got a rifle.  I panicked.

“Wait!” I yelled.

I reached down, took off Ruff’s collar and kissed the top of his head.

“Goodbye, partner,” I said softly to him.  “No boy ever had a better dog.”

I moved back.  Chief of Police Lindo Foster pulled back the bolt and fired the bullet into Ruff.