Always Real, Antique Childhood

The Whistle And The Dinosaur

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.

44 thoughts on “The Whistle And The Dinosaur

  1. Oh, the clarity and understanding we are often granted many years too late. Some would say that there is no purpose in remembering as there is nothing we can do to change the past. We can, however, change the future if we have learned from the past, even many years later. And in sharing, we can help others to learn from our past.

    * * *
    If there can be anything good of it, I am resolved to teach my child to reach out to those who don’t necessarily fit. I pray that God will shape his heart in this way.

  2. This just makes my heart ache. I think if we all look back far enough, we can think of a “Debbie” in our lives. Thanks for a reminder to keep an eye out for “Debbies” in the future, so that we show a little extra kindness ….

  3. The story is poignant, but what I’m focusing on is the beans & weenies – my Mom used to make that all the time. Makes me nostalgic… I’ll have to see if hubby wants to have it sometime (without Mom’s usual “green” vegetable – cole slaw!).

  4. Isn’t it interesting how slicing hot dogs can bring such memories to mind? This story reminds me of high school. By the time I got to the lunch room the table where all of my “friends” sat was always very crowded. So to avoid the whole issue I would get a pass to the art room and work on projects. You know what I wish I would have done? Sat at that table that only had the one kid that nobody wanted to sit with.

    * * * *

    Yes, indeed. The lunch room is a social landmine. I think for me, parenting is an opportunity to heal hurts and atone for the sins of my own childhood. I can’t go back and be Debbie’s friend, but I can work on teaching Sean to look for the kid sitting alone.

  5. I think we have all had a “Debbie” in our childhood lives. Mine was Mary Lou…& she was a dirty little girl that smelled, who was loud & obnoxious. I’ve wondered what ever happened to her.

    My hubby had a part time job at a Sinclair station & I remember those inflatables! Our first Christmas we had an inflatable Santa & I’m sure it was from the Sinclair Station. We also had dinasour soap!

    Thanks for the memories!

  6. Excellent post. I think we all know a “Debbie” and wish we would have handled our interactions with her a bit differently, but as children, we do not really see or understand the “bigger picture” until much later when we are adults.
    Sean is a sensitive and caring boy, and with your guidance, I believe he will reach out to the “Debbies” he encounters in his life.
    By the way, I wanted one of those Sinclair inflatable dinosours, too, when I was a kid, and I never got one, either!!

  7. Children are so often cruel without meaning to be. We were sitting around talking about childhood several years ago, and my one comment on mine (and my mother) was that I didn’t realize that we were poor until I was an adult myself. I think that says alot about my mother and how much she loved us.

  8. My Debbie just found me on Facebook this week. I specifically remember thinking the summer before my 7th grade year that I should abandon the friend I’d had since before pre-school for “cooler” friends.

    My Debbie has now lost all three of her sons due to bad choices she made in parenting. Her mom has them and she hasn’t seen them in two years.

    I can’t help but wonder if I hadn’t snubbed her if she’d have a different life.

  9. There have been Debbie’s in my life and I have often been the Debbie. Isn’t it amazing how something as simple as a hot dog can bring up memories… some sweet… some we wish we could forget. My heart wants so sooth this out for you and yet words do not come…. however, know that your darling Sean has a warm heart and perhaps there won’t be a Debbie in his life….
    God bless….

  10. Reading this post, I have a bit of tears in my eyes. I do hope and pray that I can show my kids how to be greatful for what we have and share when we can.
    It is nice to know that we can influence our kids to be nicer~

  11. It’s not like I lose any sleep over it, but when I think about Debbie, and others like Debbie, I do feel bad/sad/disappointed/whatever that I participated in tearing someone down rather than building them up. Kids do that sort of thing, it happens, but now that I’m a parent, I want to help Sean proactively think about how his actions might make others feel. I don’t know. I hope. I pray. I try.

  12. Ouch!!! Yea, we have all had a Debbie in our lives. Hey, I do remember those rough towels, my grandma had them. They were from Biz detergent and I remember them being advertised on the Porter Wagner show with Dolly Pardon talking about them. I must have been at my grandparents house if Porter Wagner was on. Wow, that took me back a few years.

  13. Thank you for this post. Things are not always as they seem (in fact they rarely are). Even as an adult I find myself thinking somebody else has it easier, better, happier; focusing my attention on the temporary things. I have also realized as an adult that I missed out on what could have been some great relationships just because someone was a little different than me. I am resolved to teach my children a better way.

  14. What an intense story, it’s good to be reminded that we shouldn’t take what we see as being reality — that there is often a story behind everything. I was teased and bullied all the way through school, it was a miserable childhood. So I talk to my kids about the importance of treating others respectfully and being understanding and accepting of differences — I’m blessed to have good kids in that way.

  15. Oh my. What a great reminder that things are not always what they seem. There is always a back story. Always.

    I just have to add that your description of the Weenie Whistle (which I, too, coveted like crazy) reminded me of the hot dog gum. Remember that?! Yum!

  16. My Debbie was named Melissa. She had go- go boots and velvet hot pants. But her Barbie collection was my wiennie whistle. Not only did she have Barbie- She had Midge, Skipper, Ken and Allen. It was Barbie dreamland, with tons of clothes, cars and mansions for Barbie to live in. The evening dresses really caught my fancy. I coveted those, especially the Marilyn Monroe look alike black, strapless number.

    Melissa was always strange, even as a child I could sense something was off. Years later I found out she had been sexually abused. The stuff was some sort of pay off from the abuser. It creeps me out to think about it.

  17. O God forgive us collectively for every Debbie and Melissa whom we encountered in the past. I am sorry, Debbie, I am sorry Melissa, for ever having envied you or mocked you or dismissed you.

    It is healing when we acknowledge these hurtful things which happened long ago. Perhaps our sorrow now can somehow touch the souls of these broken children.

  18. Beautiful, as ever. I pulled lunch duty today and saw all 460-some kids that attend my children’s school….a lot of Debbies 🙁 Thank you for the reminder – one of my sons is really struggling with a boy who I often want to just tell him run far and fast away from…maybe I’ll try to find out what makes him tick.

  19. Oh, gosh…

    Her name was Lisa. She was born in Colombia and adopted by an American family when she was about 4 or 5. On the playground one day, she confided to a group of girls (including me) what her birth father back home had done to her. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

    Nobody played with her any more. The lesson she most likely learned? Bottle it up, don’t share, nobody cares, you are a freak.

    There was also a girl named Jackie, so poor, single mom, dirty.

    I tell my kids to look for someone on the playground who is alone, to be the first to welcome the new kid, to be the friend who makes a difference.

    Did my mom ever tell me? I don’t remember. I think so many parents assume their kiddos have good hearts and are sensitive and perceptive. It’s too much of a burden for kids to leave them to it.

    They need active guidance.

  20. Oh, Antique Mommy…I have loved the Antique Family since Sean was a baby. Your writings give such clarity to the ramblings of your mind. Most of us are unable to drege up entire episodes from our childhood. If I knew your address, I would send you an Oscar Mayer Weiner Whistle for your memory box. I checked on eBay and they have them unopened in plastic bubbles for $5.00 You just have to have one….and I’d love to buy it, if I knew where to send it. Actually, you would need two, wouldn’t you? Sean would have to have one, too.

  21. Oh, I’ve been Debbie. One of the reasons kids try so HARD to fit in is that they are pack animals, and turn on the one that’s different. I recall reading an article about how it was important to integrate kids more or less equally by race, so that nobody stood out as “different.”

    Turned out that when they did that, the kids turned on the fat one. Or the tall one. Girls are apparently particularly prone to turning on the tall one. Like boys turn on the bookish one. There’s apparently a really deep instinct in us for an “omega.” Everybody needs to feel like they are better than somebody.

    I did my turn at the bottom of the social totem pole. It left scars so deep that when one of the kids who dealt me all that grief contacted my sister on facebook two months ago I was concerned. It was THIRTY YEARS AGO, and I’m still carrying a grudge.


  22. Oh, the way our perspective changes. As a child, I always wished I could go to daycare to play with all the fun toys…now our family sacrifices to make sure my son never has to go to daycare, just like my mother did.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  23. I’ve been Debbie a few times in my life as well. Years later, when I wasn’t Debbie, I still did not learn from my own experiences and returned that ugly behavior onto another unknowing soul.

    *shaking head*

    It’s embarrassing to type that out, but it’s a lesson that just reminds me how sin is such an intrinsic part of our fiber.

    I pray that the Lord open my eyes to teaching opportunities with my sons. My oldest, a strong-willed, opiniated little boy, also has a soft heart that is easily hurt. Not that I want him to be bullied, but I hope that God uses that sensitivity to bring His glory to others around my son. I think I’d rather he stay soft-hearted than be the bully.

    Great post AM.

  24. AM- so well put. I hope you didn’t slice your finger while cutting and thinking so deeply at the same time.

    I have so many recollections of leaving people out. I’m sure I included some, too, but it does hurt to recall those bad mistakes. I think the only way to make up for it is to teach our children to think differently (like you said) and to reach out to the current Debbies who are still out there alone.

  25. I went to school with a girl named TAMMY…I thought a very cool name at the time…she had a matching purse and shoes for everyoutfit she owned and I don’t think I ever….ever saw her wear the same thing twice. She was beautiful and very aloof…no friends that I know of and didn’t seem to care….she always dated much older guys in high School. I saw her 10 years later when I was visiting my sister-in-law in the maternity ward…Tammy had three children by three different men-none of which were in her life….I was shocked!!!

  26. Loved the story. I had a friend that had all the special things…a tether ball pole, a vanity with a pull out drawer that made the lights come on around the mirror. Dolls from around the world because she had a rich aunt that traveled. Who had those things in a small mining town in the 60’s? The difference in our stories is she was very loved…chosen and adopted. We were best friends and she shared everything with me. What a lucky kid I was. She is still my best friend.
    Did I mention Chatty Cathy!!!

  27. My Debbie was actually a boy named John. In 5th grade, I didn’t even know he existed, but he evidently liked me. And he bought me a gift for Christmas. And then he moved away. A few years later, we ended up at the same school again in a different state and I recognized him…and avoided him. I thought he was so strange. And now I look back and realize he just wanted to be my friend (or boyfriend) and I should have at least been his friend. Instead, I was worried everyone else would think I was a geek, too, if I was friends with him. And now I’m ashamed of that behavior.

  28. I just picture poor Debbie desperately blowing her whistle for attention and her gray unloving grandma appeasing her own guilt with yet another empty stand in for love. How depressing. I think it’s fundamental that we all want love over objects, unless we are taught from the beginning that objects bring happiness. Over and over again, I keep thinking the sins of the fathers…and my imperfect life that could possibly reflect back upon my children and do them harm. Giving our children love, showing them how important compassion is towards others by our own example goes a long way. Sometimes we just don’t get the message that was planted in us until later, but we can pass it on to our children.

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