21 February 2012

Misty Comes Home

As a kid I was as addicted to animal books as I was to animals. The latter were much more pleasant people than the humans I had to deal with, especially at school. I much preferred the company of adults anyway, as long as they weren't discussing politics or [shudder] budgets.

As I made friends with the neighborhood pets (I knew people by their dogs--it wasn't Bill's house, it was Gigi's...Rex the collie's house...not the Ferrantes, but where Buttons lived.) Since I was allergic, I couldn't have my own pets, so I made pets of everyone else's, including those in books. I loved Anne H. White's offbeat critters (Serapina the cat with the telescoping tail, Junket the Airedale, Scholar the Golden Retriever), Jim Kjelgaard's hunting dogs (Big Red and his ilk), the Arctic adventures of Mounty Jim Thorne and his magnificent Silver Chief, even the sad books like Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. Library books wore out in my hands: The Green Poodles, Runaway Pony Runaway Dog (which I didn't realize until much later was just one of a series of books about Sassy and Tough-Enough), Champion Dog Prince Tom, Lad: A Dog (and everything else by Albert Payson Terhune), Blitz (a fire horse). At home I had what we could afford in cheap Whitman editions, mostly the Lassie books and Albert Miller's three Fury novels in inexpensive Grosset & Dunlap editions. My favorite Bobbsey Twin characters were Snap the dog and Snoop the cat (who didn't appear half enough to suit me). And I mourned a little when the animal stories that appeared in Scholastic's book club editions were still too far beyond our reach: White Ruff and Champ, Gallant Collie and Clarence the TV Dog.

One of my most beloved authors was Marguerite Henry, but I had little hope of owning any of her volumes. They were all in hardback back then, costly volumes around $5, back in the day when 29 cents for a Whitman book was the norm, and 60 cents for a paperback of National Velvet or My Friend Flicka was a splurge. (My copy of Green Grass of Wyoming, which I received for a good report card, was 75 cents, which utterly horrified my father. With only one parent working and in a factory, yet, 75 cents was a good deal of money.) So via the library (and the tucked-away bookshelves in Shepard's department store) I read and re-read all I could find, even the obscure ones, like Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin. Later, when college was done and I went to work, the books were finally out in trade paperback, and I bought them two by two every payday. Some I had to collect later via the internet, the ones that never made it to paperback status: White Stallion of Lipizza, Benjamin West, Cinnabar the One O'Clock Fox, etc.

I had forgotten that there were a few gaps to my collection until just recently when a friend who is reading the books mentioned them, and I turned back to my old friend the internet. This brought me the funny short book Always Reddy, the story of an Irish setter, and one of the most longed-for books, A Pictorial Life Story of Misty. Not the story Henry told in the novel, but the real story of how Henry bought the young filly (after she was weaned) and her life on Henry's little country place, "Mole Meadow," with Friday the Morgan horse and Pixie the cocker spaniel, and later Brighty the donkey and Alex the dachshund, until Henry decided it was time for Misty to return to Chincoteague and have a family of her own, all with color and black and white photos of Henry, the horses and other critters, and Wesley Dennis' beautiful artwork tucked in the margins. I sat reading it with a big grin on my face and as many chuckles as it would have given me way back when, and I finished it with a sense of completion and satisfaction.

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