As I was opening a package of hotdogs to fix for Sean for dinner last night, I reflexively started singing the Oscar Mayer song. You know the one: “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener. That is what I truly want to be-EE-ee…”
Singing that song always makes me think of the Oscar Mayer wiener whistle and I can’t ever think of the wiener whistle without thinking about Debbie.
When I was about six or seven, my neighbor Debbie had one of those little red wiener whistles that came in a package of Oscar Mayer hotdogs. Maybe they didn’t come in the package of hotdogs but you had to mail off for it, I don’t know. All I know is that Debbie had one and I did not. They were about an inch and half long and they were a perfect little red hotdog in miniature and everybody wanted one.
As I stood over the stove slicing a hot dog into a pan of pork and beans, humming the Oscar Mayer wiener song, I recalled with sparkling clarity standing in Debbie’s backyard one summer day under the dappled shade of an old elm tree, watching her blow that little red whistle like Miles Davis.
When she was done playing the hotdog song on her hotdog whistle, she shoved it deep down into her pocket, out of reach of covetous hands. She smiled smugly and shook her head ever so slightly, refusing me a turn without a single word. On many occasions I tried to negotiate a trade, something of mine, anything, for that wiener whistle, but to no avail. And who could blame her. I had nothing equal to a wiener whistle. How I wished that little red whistle were mine, but it was not to be.
And when I think of Debbie and her whistle, I also think of her big green Sinclair dinosaur. Back in the 60s, if you bought gas at the Sinclair station, you could somehow get an inflatable dinosaur. Now I do not know exactly how you got the dinosaur because we did not get one. All we ever got for free were flimsy towels that came in boxes of laundry detergent — never anything good and useful, like a dinosaur or a wiener whistle.
The Sinclair dinosaur was about three feet tall and when it was fully inflated, you could sit on its back and bounce and for some reason, at that time, that was a thrill. Although Debbie did occasionally let me ride the dinosaur, I dreamed of having one of my very own and not letting anyone ride on it, most especially my brothers.
As I dished up the beans and hotdog I was about to serve my child, I thought of Debbie’s closet full of dresses, some of which would eventually get handed down to me, and I thought of Debbie’s plastic wigs, Debbie’s toy kitchen, Debbie’s nurse outfit with the cape and hat and medical bag. I thought of her semi-creepy yet wildly alluring big doll head with hair you could really style.
Debbie had everything.
Except for a mom and dad. Debbie lived with with her grandmother, obese and gray. I don’t mean that her hair was gray, although it was, but everything about her was gray. Her personality was joyless and gray. She always wore an ugly housedress and made Debbie fetch stuff for her. The grandmother seldom came out of the house and when she did, all the kids would flee for their lives.
Come to think of it, the only friends Debbie had were the neighborhood kids who occasionally wanted to play with some of her toys. Truth be told, we weren’t really her friends. If we weren’t being outright mean to Debbie, we were being dismissive.
For reasons I will never know or understand, we just couldn’t let her be one of us. And as I stood there stirring beans, I was filled with regret that I contributed one drop of sorrow to her life. And I would give a million whistles to undo it.
I learned from my mom a few years back that Debbie’s life was short and cruelly tragic.
Debbie didn’t have everything after all.