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The community musical for the summer was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I had been chosen to play Lord Scrumptious, the candy maker. It wasn’t the part I had tried out for, but there was one thing I really enjoyed about it, and that was the children.
After the Toot Sweet dance, the children all came in dressed as dogs. They were so cute in their costumes. Since I was the main focus of the scene, even though the dogs were supposed to chase everyone, they all especially liked to bark at me. I would end up with such a large group of dog-costumed children barking at me that I couldn’t run away like everyone else. I feared I would accidentally trip over one of them. Eventually, the curtains would close, but before it did, many of the smallest children would jump up and run to me.
I’m pretty sure they were seeking praise, and I would always pat the floppy ears on top of their heads and whisper that they did a good job. During practice, the director would call out, “All dogs must stay on all four paws until the curtain closes!”
But it didn’t matter. The whole barking lot of the littlest ones would jump up and race to see who could get to me first. The director tried to compensate by having the curtains close faster. This posed its own problem. In the next scene, the children in their dog costumes were supposed to chase the spies across in front of the curtain. But many of them did not want to move to that assignment until they had their heads patted and were complimented on the good job they did.
I tried to pat the heads of my little canine costumed crowd as quickly as I could, then hurry them into position for their next scene. Inevitably, there were a few who were late joining the rest of the pack to bark their way across the stage.
One particular night, one little five-year-old boy named Gabe was quite a bit behind the others. They were almost halfway across the stage when he came out the side door and started woofing his way across in front of the curtain. He was hurrying as fast as he could to catch up, and the orchestra and the audience watched in horror as his hat with the big floppy hound dog ears fell down over his eyes.
Gabe didn’t want to lose any time by stopping to fix it, so he kept going, barking loudly. But his course was diverging from a straight line, and he was heading for the orchestra pit. As he reached the edge of the stage, the orchestra members dropped their instruments and grabbed for him. The audience gasped as Gabe tumbled over the edge. The orchestra members were able to break his fall, and he wasn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the French horn that was dropped and then crushed in the more important rush to save Gabe. The orchestra pulled Gabe’s hat back and hoisted him back onto the stage where he bayed his way on across the stage to the applause of the audience.
After those scenes, Gabe and I were the only two in the dressing room. He was sitting dejectedly on the bench.
“What’s wrong, Gabe?” I asked. “Are you hurt?”
He shook his head. “No. But the director is really mad at me. She was waiting for me when I came off of the stage.”
“What did she say?”
“She said I can’t wear my hat anymore.”
I could see his little heart was breaking. “She just doesn’t want you to get hurt,” I said.
“But the hat is the best part of the costume,” he replied.
I patted the hound dog ears on top of his head. “The best part of the costume is you, Gabe. You are a horn-smashing good hound dog.”
He smiled. “I guess I am. The director said something about that, too.”