Written by Rick Archer
Mrs. Ballantyne was the
mother of seven students at St. John's. I first noticed Mrs.
Ballantyne in the 4th grade. I had no idea who she was, but
she definitely caught my attention. It seemed to me that
Mrs. Ballantyne dominated the conversation in the SJS Mother's Guild.
The memory of the nasty woman who had practically taken my
head off with her scorn had a lingering effect. Although I didn't let that woman's
rude dismissal stop me from peeking in, I did become manage to
surreptitious. I found an observation post in the
shadows behind an entrance to the Commons Room and watched from afar.
If I got
an occasional dirty look from someone who noticed me, I learned
not to stick around. I would
simply disappear before they could say anything. No one ever
bothered me again.
There was a always group of women milling about
this room in the afternoon. Sometimes 10, sometimes 40. I
had no idea what their names were or who their children were.
Except one - Mrs. Ballantyne.
Her full name was Maria
Ballantyne, but to me, she was 'Mrs. Ballantyne.'
When Mrs. Ballantyne spoke, the other
women seemed to gather around her. I assumed she
was their leader. I didn't know if
Mrs. Ballantyne was mean like that woman who had ordered me to leave,
but I did know I was impressed by her stature. Everything
seemed to revolve around her. I found myself very drawn to
As I watched her
perform on center stage, I was
From that point on, whenever I noticed the
Mother's Guild in the Commons Room, the first thing I did was look
for this lady. Even if I had only a few minutes left to get to my next
class, I would risk being late just so I could watch Mrs.
in action a little longer.
woman about 5' 3" tall, Mrs. Ballantyne had dark brown hair
and a dark complexion thanks to her Greek heritage.
Whenever I saw her,
Mrs. Ballantyne was always at the center of the group.
She was the most dynamic and powerful woman I had ever seen
in my life. I stopped paying attention to the other women and
began to concentrate only on her.
Any time I spotted
Mrs. Ballantyne, I would stop and hide somewhere
so I could study her for a few minutes. However, I never once came anywhere near
Mrs. Ballantyne. After that other lady had chewed me out so badly, I
kept a discrete distance from all these women lest they bite.
As for the mean woman, when she was around, I retreated
deeper into the shadows.
I loved watching Mrs. Ballantyne
in action. Over time I
thought I detected a difference between Mrs. Ballantyne and the
other women. For one thing, she seemed very down to earth. She
smiled a lot and radiated warmth. I liked the way she
laughed and took charge.
It seemed to me that
Mrs. Ballantyne was most socially gifted person I had ever come
across. She exuded confidence. Warm and outgoing, Mrs.
Ballantyne struck me as the go-to lady at every one of these
afternoon Power Conclaves.
As far as I was concerned, with
all those other women buzzing around her,
Mrs. Ballantyne was
the Queen Bee.
I had no idea why this
lady was so special, but Mrs. Ballantyne seemed to know everyone.
She was a social dynamo of the highest order. It struck me as
unusual that Mrs. Ballantyne was the only
'mother' I ever noticed. After all, there were
at least 50 different women who floated in and out of these
circles, but none of made an impression on me. Other
than that woman who had been mean to me, I have not a single memory of
another mother who made an impression on me. I was
mesmerized by her.
Oddly enough, three years passed before I
actually knew Mrs. Ballantyne's name. In the 7th Grade, there was a new girl
in my class named Katina Ballantyne. One morning I saw Katina get out of a car along
brothers and sisters.
When a woman got out of the car to give instructions, I looked to
see who Katina's mother was. I surprised to see this was the
same lady I watched all the time in the Commons Room.
seemed to be a constant fixture at my school.
I estimate I saw her at St. John's two or three times a week for
all the nine years I attended. Mathematically, that rounds out
to 1,000 different encounters or so. Did we ever
speak? No. Not one single time. Despite my
stated admiration for this woman, not once did we ever meet
at St. John's. And yet Mrs. Ballantyne would turn out
to be the reason I wrote this book.
One day I asked Katina
why her mother was at school all the time. Katina told me her
family had seven children at the school, more than any other family.
I was astonished. No wonder Mrs. Ballantyne was at my school
all the time!
Most of the time
I would spot Mrs. Ballantyne
in the Commons Room,
but she was also the only mother who ever seemed to appear in
other parts of the school.
I would see her striding down the hallway corridors
side by side with Headmaster Alan Chidsey or deep in
conversation with E.K. Salls, the Assistant Headmaster. Since I didn't see the other mothers doing the same thing,
this definitely set
Mrs. Ballantyne apart from the other women in
the Mother's Guild.
grapevine, I learned Mrs. Ballantyne had a reputation at my school as an effective
go-getter. I have a hunch that for the most part
Mrs. Ballantyne used reason, charm and persuasion to accomplish most
of her projects. However, Mrs. Ballantyne was
also rumored to have enormous will power.
It was said she could be very controlling at times, even
One day I used my
invisibility to inadvertently overhear
about Mrs. Ballantyne's iron will. There had been a fierce argument
between Mrs. Ballantyne and one of her daughters (not
Katina) concerning a young man the girl was dating.
Mrs. Ballantyne didn't approve because in her opinion the young man was too
old for her daughter. The daughter, strong-willed
like her mother, completely disagreed. The ensuing battle led
to considerable thunder and lightning in the Ballantyne home. That
story convinced me I never wanted to cross swords with this
Based on this
I suppose Mrs. Ballantyne
had a sledge hammer in her tool kit in addition to her assortment of persuasive
charms. No surprise there. I
am not quite sure how else one accomplishes things in life without
asserting one's will when necessary. That is why some people
are called 'leaders'.
Mrs. Ballantyne was
married to Alando 'Jay' Ballantyne,
a physician who researched cancer at Houston's renowned MD Anderson
Together they raised
a truly remarkable family of seven talented children -
Katina, Marina, Christie, George, and Lisa.
During my time at St.
John's, the Ballantyne family
was the most famous family in the whole
school. There were many talented individuals at St.
John's, but no family could
possibly rival the Ballantynes.
To me, the Ballantyne family was the SJS
answer to the Kennedys.
Having developed my
unusual fascination with their mother, I extended my watch list to
the three Ballantyne children closest to me in age.
Dana was two years ahead of me, Katina was in my own grade, and
Marina was one year behind.
Like their mother, Dana,
Katina, and Marina were friendly and warm to everyone. They
were down to earth and thoughtful of
others. Despite their enormous talent, not
one of them displayed any egotism whatsoever. I observed that
Dana, Katina, and Marina achieved tremendous success in
academics, athletics, and leadership.
They all excelled at one school
activity after another. Dana was not only the
football captain, he was far and away the best player on the team.
Marina was Head Prefect
of her class and Katina was a Prefect as well.
It was my observation
that these three students deserved their accolades.
Although I had no direct interaction with Dana, Katina, and Marina,
from my close vantage point, I could see all three of them conducted themselves with
Dana, Katina and Marina received the respect of their peers because they deserved it.
No snobbery, no airs, no pretensions. In nine years, I never
saw a single incident where a Ballantyne child acted in any way
other than exemplary.
opinion, like their mother, the Ballantyne children were born
They accomplished extraordinary things and
they did it the right way - they earned it. I am sure they
weren't perfect, but I never saw a single reason to
relinquish my high regard for them.
I feel compelled to
interest in this family was benign.
Watching my three dynamic classmates was something I did only because I
admired them. Due to my own feelings of inadequacy, it is no
surprise I was drawn to them as role models. I wanted to know why the Ballantyne children were so
successful. Maybe if I watched, I could learn how to get my
parents to like me.
Katina was the only
member of the Ballantyne family I ever spoke to. She was a
very warm person who was nice enough to say hello every now and
then. However, Katina and I never had a single conversation
that went beyond schoolwork.
As for Katina and her siblings, I respected their privacy
the same way that I
respected the privacy of their mother. Keeping my observations
discrete, I doubt seriously any of the children ever
realized my unusual scrutiny and curiosity about their family.
In the end, it all
boiled down to this. The Ballantyne children were a credit to
Every time I saw the pride on Mrs. Ballantyne's face, I always
wondered why I never saw a similar look of pride on my father's face
or my mother's face.
I speak frequently of my
growing sense of inferiority during these years. My parents'
lack of pride in me contributed directly.
A Great Mom AND A STRUGGLING MOM
From the moment I first spotted Mrs.
Ballantyne in the 4th grade, I was transfixed. The
4th grade became the 5th grade and the 5th grade became the
6th. With each
new grade, I resumed my silent watch and with each new grade my respect
for this woman deepened.
Over time I came to
Mrs. Ballantyne. To begin with she was the clear leader of the Mother's
Guild. She was the alpha lady in a group
of women who were typically used to being in charge themselves. Then I noticed how
well she interacted with her own children.
I do not remember when
it happened, but I finally realized why I could not take my eyes off
this woman. Mrs. Ballantyne had become my fantasy choice as
the woman I wanted to have as my own mother. She clearly had her children's complete respect. I came to the conclusion that Mrs.
Ballantyne was not only the most socially talented woman I had ever seen,
she was also the best mother. I could help but compare
Mrs. Ballantyne to my own mother. The stark contrast was
disconcertingly unfavorable to my own beleaguered mother.
was eleven years old. My support
system was about as thin as it could be. I had a
wonderful aunt and uncle who lived near Washington, DC, but
that was a long way away. I had a Quaker family named the
Clarks who had been kind enough to take me on a trip to
Colorado last summer, but they lived on the other side of
town. I had a father who had turned his back on me to
attend to his new family. I had no neighborhood
friends since we were always moving. I was trying very
hard to be a big boy, but it was really tough sometimes.
Left to fend for myself,
I wondered what it would be like to have mother who took care of me. Based on what I saw at
school, Mrs. Ballantyne seemed intimately involved
in every detail of her children's lives. As an extremely lonely
little boy, it isn't surprising at all that I would be attracted to
this dynamic Greek woman who radiated warmth and concern.
had a realistic side that understood these daydreams were
nonsense and that right now I was in a precarious position. I
understood that I was totally dependent on a
mother who was perpetually lost in her own problems. Poor Mom.
Struggling hard to make ends meet and dealing with her own
loneliness issues, she was not much of a mother to
However, Mom was all I had. If I lost her, I had no idea what
would become of me. I was deeply afraid someone would
make me go live with my father. I hated Stepmother, so
the thought of being placed with him make me sick. I
was almost certain the first thing Stepmother would make me
do was say goodbye to Terry. Then she would tell my
father to remove me from St. John's immediately as a waste
of money. Then she would treat me with her usual
hostility out of resentment for being stuck with me.
bad as things were in my home, it doesn't take much
imagination why I strongly preferred to be with my
mother. She wasn't much of a mother, but at least I
knew she cared about me. I had no similar illusions
about my father.
Right now Mom wasn't inspiring any sense of security. One
day Mom started crying. I did not know what the issue was,
but she was badly out of control. A real foreboding took
hold of me. It did not help that the world was very gloomy
outside. At the moment, it was pouring torrential rain.
Suddenly, without warning, my mother got off her bed and rushed out of our
apartment. When she did not say a word to me, I was
frightened. I was not about to let her leave me in that
condition, so I followed behind undetected. I was instantly drenched,
but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Not with her like
As I followed Mom in the rain, I could tell something was
terribly wrong. What was she crying so hard about?
Now she came to the edge of a swollen bayou and laid face down on the wet
grass. Covering her face with her hands, Mom sobbed her head off.
Her body was wracked with pain, but I
didn't know what to do. Should I go and try to
comfort her? Or should I just monitor the situation?
I opted to stay hidden and keep watching. However, if she moved
one step closer to that bayou, I was ready to tackle her.
would say a good fifteen minutes passed. Finally my mother
slowly rose to her feet. Mom was so wet and muddy she
resembled a Swamp Monster. Thankfully she seemed a
little stronger. Hiding behind a tree to watch, I was gratified to see her head
back towards our apartment. The rain was washing
most of the mud off her, so she didn't look quite so scary
anymore. As Mom entered the apartment
project, I figured she was coming home, so I took a different route and
sprinted back to our home.
I was in the shower when I heard the door shut. Mom
never knew I had been spying on her. I preferred to
let her to keep her dignity. I know she would not
have wanted me to see how forlorn she was.
As a footnote to this strange story, my mother's reckless
decision to go visit her brother Dick in Northern Virginia
at Christmas time took place a few months after this event.
My mother's life was in crisis, but she never confided in me
what the issues were. However, years
later she did tell me she had once considered suicide.
She said the horrible thought of me being forced to live with my father
was the only thing that changed her mind. When Mom
mentioned suicide, I have to
believe she was referring to this incident. There was
a real strong chance she considered jumping into the
swollen waters of that nearby bayou. Thank
goodness she changed her mind. Mom wasn't much of a
mother, but she sure beat the alternative.
manic depressive behavior caused me untold anguish. There
were times when I feared she would end up in the loony bin and be
unable to care for me. Although I knew Mom was a
good person, she simply wasn't a very good mother. Mom couldn't
keep a job and she couldn't pay her bills, but her worst
downfall was her inability to balance her needs with my needs.
In particular, her penchant for acquiring total losers
and forcing me to live with them was a source of serious
ongoing tension between us.
I grew up fast at age
11. I got myself to and from school on my bike, I took care of
Terry, I fed myself when necessary, and I did my homework without
any prompting. I was alone much of the time, but did not
complain. However, my independence did not cure my loneliness.
I was full of self-pity for being stuck with Mom. Due to my increasing
lack of confidence in my mother, I could not keep my eyes
off of Mrs. Ballantyne.
I would notice Mrs. Ballantyne's poise. I would see how well
she was liked by her peers. I would take note of how her own children gravitated to her.
At these times I would
be overwhelmed by all sorts of wishful thinking. Given my
troubled home, it should come as no surprise that I developed a
serious case of hero worship for Mrs. Ballantyne. I suppose my
fixation was a little creepy, but I was harmless. I respected Mrs. Ballantyne's privacy
Not once in
all those years did I ever approach her in any way. I was
just some pitiful little kid standing in a corner who figured no one
cared if I watched. I would wonder what I would be like
if I had someone like this dynamic woman for a mother. Since I was a near
orphan, how could I not be attracted to such a caring, energetic
mother? I would conclude every
viewing with the same wistful
"Gosh, why can't I have a mother like that?"
CALL OF THE
for a strong mother like Mrs. Ballantyne.
Through her actions that I observed at school and the accomplishments of her children, I
developed a great appreciation for Mrs. Ballantyne's talent.
Due to her strong outgoing nature, Mrs. Ballantyne was by far the
most public of all the St. John's mothers. It seemed to me
Mrs. Ballantyne was everywhere. Not only that, every time I
saw her she seemed to be cheering for her children in some way or
another. I wistfully noted the impact a strong mother can
have on her children's lives.
I placed Mrs. Ballantyne
directly at the top of the Motherhood totem pole. As for my
own mother, although I assumed there were some mothers worse than her,
I never met one to confirm that suspicion.
think my mother loved me, but as I grew older, she didn't like me very much.
Not that I blame her. I was a moody, sarcastic, sullen kid. I was so full of
resentment towards my mother that I doubt I was pleasant to
be around much of the time. You know, I wish
I could tell some sweet, tender stories
about my mother, but I just can't think of any. We had
some good moments, but we were never close. Mom wasn't the
sort to confide in me nor was she the sort to ask questions about my
own affairs. My overriding memory was that Mom left me alone a
lot. She either left the house to chase men or she didn't mind
if I went to my bedroom to study. As I rack my memory, I cannot recall a single
school activity my mother ever participated in at my school.
The only time I can ever remember my mother visiting the
school other than to drop me off was high
school graduation. She certainly never patrolled the
SJS hallways like Mrs. Ballantyne did.
My mother did
several inexcusable things during our time together.
Her worst mistake, of course, was her continued insistence on bringing those awful men into my
home. I protested no end, but she refused to stop
My mother did not
appreciate my outspoken hostility. She responded in
what the therapists call 'passive aggressive' ways.
Of course the most blatant thing she did was continue to
bring men home with her. She knew that infuriated me.
But she also had a
very sick way of retaliating... Mom would occasionally let
Terry out of
the house to do his business despite my strict insistence
that she let me handle this.
If Terry the Terrible had one
failing, that would be his insatiable sex drive. Yes, even
dogs have that particular downfall.
One afternoon in the 5th
grade I came home from school. Mom was home early and Terry
"Where is Terry?" I
asked in fear.
"He scratched the door,
so I let him out. Don't worry, he'll be home soon enough."
I was instantly furious
with my mother. My dog would not dream of running away from
me, but with my mother, it was a different story. Most of the
time, Terry would come back in the house willingly, but today he was off to the races. So I got
on my bike and began the search. Typically Terry was just a few
blocks away and I would round
up my escaped dog within 30-60 minutes. However, this time was
different. I could not find Terry anywhere. Two hours
later it was dark,
so I gave up. When I returned home, as I feared, Terry had not
returned. I gave my mother a look that could kill for doing
this to me.
I did not sleep well.
To my dismay, the next morning, Terry had still not returned. I was
so worried. Terry had never been gone this long before.
Was he hurt? Did he get hit by a car? Did the dogcatcher
get him? That afternoon I searched the neighborhood in vain. I was forlorn.
Terry had been gone for over a day.
The following day was
more of the same. No Terry in the morning, afternoon, or
night. I was sick out of my mind. I could not eat, I
could not study, I was consumed by the fear I would never see my
dog again. When I awoke, I ran outside to call for my dog, but there
was no sign of him. At this point, I gave up all hope.
I went back inside to prepare for school, but I was so upset I could barely move.
Just minutes before I
left for school, I
heard distant barking outside. I looked out the window and saw a pack of six dogs
running together at the far end of the block. One of those
dogs had dark fur and looked like it might be Terry. I burst out
the door and chased the dog pack. They were pretty far ahead
when, son of a gun, two dogs stopped and began
to fight. I was glad for the fight because it
allowed me to catch up to the dog pack.
The fight was fierce.
Those dogs had their teeth bared and they were growling as they went for each
other's throats. I ran faster hoping against hope. Sure
enough, one of
those savage beasts was Terry. He was fighting so hard he did
not even notice me. Terry had the upper hand, but this fight
needed to end now.
I screamed "Terry!!!!!" at the top of
my lungs, but to my surprise Terry did not respond at all to my
demonic scream. So without any hesitation I dove right in
between them. It
never even dawned
on me that I could get hurt. I grabbed Terry's dog collar with
my right hand and pushed the other dog away with my left foot. The two dogs were
completely shocked by my attack. They both stopped fighting to
see what this giant new threat was. I pulled Terry away, but to my surprise, Terry
struggled to keep fighting! Oh my god, what strength! That
rotten dog struggled like mad to get loose. While Terry
and I wrestled, the other
dog was smart enough to get away while it could. Seeing the other dog use the opening to
escape, Terry was desperate to attack again.
Finally I had enough of this.
time to assert my authority. "C'mon, Terry, fun's
over. Time to
Gee whiz, Terry still wouldn't budge! He kept
straining to get back to that other
dog. That is when I noticed the other dog had used the opening to
go hump a nearby female dog.
Aha! So that's what this was all about. This dog pack
was all about a bitch
in heat and I had interrupted Terry's valiant effort to obtain mating
rights. If I was in a better mood, I would have felt sorry for
letting Terry's opponent exploit the situation in such a maddening
way. But right now
I was not at all sympathetic. This damn dog of mine had put me
With that, I
picked Terry up off his feet and carried him home in my arms fireman
He struggled a bit more, but I was too powerful. Now Terry tried
reasoning with me. Terry gave me the funniest, most pathetic look.
Using telepathy, I knew exactly what he was saying... 'C'mon,
Dad, look what that other dog is doing to my girlfriend! Let
me go so I can kick his ass!'
"Tough luck, Terry, no
more Call of the Wild for you
today. You're coming home with me, damn it!"
I noticed the further we got,
seemed to diminish. Finally he
gave up and licked my face. I am sure it
had to be humiliating for him to be dragged away from his conquest
and carried home, but I could not have cared less
about his tender feelings. Damn dog.
He had been gone for two and a half days. I should have had him fixed for what he had just put me through.
Would have saved me a lot of grief.
the original escape artist. The dog had a strong sense
of independence and loved to go roaming on his own.
Most of those escapes came on my mother's watch.
Terry pulled the same trick
on my mother at least a dozen times over the years...
she would let him out and he would take off. Then
I would be in agony until I could find Terry or wait
for him to eventually return home.
To be honest, I did
not know how I would live without my dog, so every escape
was a source of supreme bitterness on my part because I blamed my
mother for taking chances with my dog. I accused Mom
of doing it deliberately, but she always denied it. I didn't
My mother knew damn
well that dog was the most important in the world thing to me, but
she let him out the door anyway and then blamed the dog for running
away. Her excuses infuriated me, but what could I do to stop
did not have a forgiving nature, so over time the bitterness grew to
the point where I became very cold to my mother.
The Call of the Wild
incident was the longest time Terry was ever gone, but
there was another incident that was even worse. The most painful
experience came at a highly dramatic time. It was
1961 and a monster Category 5 hurricane named Carla was headed our way.
I was age 11 at the time
and in the 6th Grade. The TV was on non-stop. Together we listened to the weatherman's dire
warnings with growing apprehension. As I would come to learn, most hurricane
warnings do not amount to much. I believe more often than not the weatherman
manipulates our fear so we will stay tuned through
the commercials. However, these warnings about Carla were no
hype. I could sense genuine concern in the weatherman's voice.
He made me believe this hurricane was something far different than
The man was right. I remember this powerful hurricane
oh so well. Not only was Carla the most intense hurricane to
ever hit Texas, Hurricane Carla would go down as one of the ten
worst hurricanes in American history.
During its approach, the experts labeled
Carla the storm of the century. Get to safety. Heeding
the warnings, my mother decided to take
Terry and myself over to her latest boyfriend's house near Texas Southern University.
His house was ten miles
east of our apartment.
Mom said she did not want to be alone in this
storm without a man around for protection. I rolled my eyes since I wasn't
convinced this was the real reason for our visit. However,
I didn't protest. I was scared enough that for once I gave her the benefit
of the doubt. Terry came with us.
Sure enough, Hurricane Carla was something else. Since Carla made
landfall near Victoria 120 miles to the southwest, Houston was
mercifully spared a direct hit. However the Bayou City got the
dirty side of the hurricane. That meant lots of rainwater and powerful winds.
Carla was quite
a storm. Those winds howled and the rain pounded
on the roof mercilessly. However, we were safe inside the
house. Around 10 pm that night, I decided to take a bath.
Unbeknownst to me, Terry
immediately began scratching at the door. This was his signal to go outside,
inexplicably opened the door. Sure enough,
Terry took off straight into the hurricane. He wanted to explore the
dangerous and exciting climate outside in the
I had just gotten in the
bath when I heard the screen door slam shut. I froze. I
had a bad feeling about that sound.
I jumped out of the tub,
wrapped a towel around me and raced into the kitchen.
"Oh, I let him outside.
He'll be back in a minute."
My eyes grew wide as an overwhelming panic
came over me. Without hesitation, I
burst out the door despite the wind and torrential rain. I was drenched in an instant. I didn't
care. After all, all I had on was a towel.
I screamed, "Terry! Where are
The pouring rain and wind didn't even register on me.
All I wanted was my dog back. I screamed his name over and
over again, but there was no sign of Terry. I peered
vainly into the dark. Terry was nowhere to be seen in this windswept darkness.
Knowing my dog like I did, I was certain Terry had no intention
of returning soon. In his mind, no doubt this was the best storm ever!! What
a great adventure!
was certain that
Terry had planned this. That damn dog! Terry
knew I would chase him to end of the earth, so he waited... that's right, he waited!... till he had an opportunity to
con my mother instead. Terry would never defy me, but he had
no respect for my mother. While I had absolute control over my
dog, Mom had no control whatsoever. Fat chance of her chasing
Oh no. Not this
again. Terry was long gone with no intention of returning anytime
in this god-forsaken night was my dog? My heart was numb.
I was paralyzed with the fear of losing my dog forever. The
painful memory of the agony he had put me through during last year's
Call of the Wild suggested this was a serious crisis.
Trembling with grief, I
stood there calling his name for a good five minutes. The
entire time I thought to myself, "Terry, please
come back to me, I beg you. Please don't do this to me again."
It was no use. There was no way I could
chase him, not at 10 pm with this drenching rain and these dangerous winds
whipping debris in every direction. I didn't
know which way he went and it was pitch dark. Without shoes or
clothes, I had no chance of finding him. This was hopeless.
So with the
heaviest heart I have ever felt, I went back inside.
It was time to confront my mother. I was incredulous at what
she had done.
"Mom, Terry is my
dog! Why would you do something like that!?"
I really lost it. I
became angrier at my mother than any time in memory. I
screamed at my mother, "Goddamnit! You have absolutely no
right to let my dog outside without me around!! How many times
have I told you this? Don't you understand that Terry could
be in danger?"
Those were strong words
from an 11 year old kid. Ordinarily my mother
would have lashed back, but this time she was strangely silent.
I stared at my mother in
how stupid can you be? What if the dog gets hurt?
What if the dog gets lost? Did you bother to think how
I will feel if he doesn't return?"
"Don't worry, he'll
be back in minute, you'll see."
"Oh, bullshit! You
know damn well Terry took off into the night."
The anger within me was
rising to a dangerous level. Fearful of losing further control, I turned in disgust
went to my room. What was she thinking? My
mother knew the tricks that dog was capable of, so why wasn't she
more careful? This was an unknown neighborhood 10 miles from our apartment. What if the dog got lost
and couldn't find his way back to this house? Seriously, for an intelligent woman, there had to be a wire loose in there
I was sick with
terror that I would never see my dog again. I did not sleep that
night. I went nearly insane with worry. Every fifteen
minutes I went back outside and called for my dog. I
was so pitiful. I was sick beyond sick with worry and
How would my dog ever survive this wild night??
How would he ever find his way back to a house he had never
visited before in
a strange neighborhood?
The hurricane's force
abated by morning. The moment there was
light, I was out in the neighborhood calling for Terry.
The dark gray foreboding sky was the perfect reflection for my
As I walked around calling Terry's name in vain, I could not believe the devastation around me. Huge trees had fallen to
the ground. Tree limbs, leaves, and all kinds of debris
covered the landscape.
Many of the streets were flooded
and impassible. Not that it mattered. With the city
still hunkered down, there wasn't a
moving car in sight. I was absolutely the only person moving around in this
deserted world. Terry was nowhere to be found. Noticing
the nearby bayou was swollen beyond belief,
I worried that my dog had drowned in that bayou.
Under the dark cloudy
skies, I continued wandering in different directions around the
neighborhood. Hours on end I covered miles and miles without any shred
of luck. I would check back in every now and then to see if
Terry had returned in my absence. No luck.
continued my non-stop search for Terry from 7 am till 6 pm.
It was getting dark now, so I decided to give up. After an entire day of disappointment,
heart was heavy with dread. My best friend in the
entire world was gone. I did not think I would ever see him
again. I was forlorn and grief-stricken.
dark thoughts for my mother. Needless to say, this
incident was typical of my childhood. Terry was my dog!!!
Knowing my dog loved to escape, she had no business putting my dog
at risk. All she had to do was tell the dog to wait five
minutes and I
would take Terry outside myself. But no, like a thoughtless idiot, she opened the door and
out he went.
When I returned
empty-handed, Mom said it was time to give up. The dog had been gone now for
twenty hours. Mom said there
much point in waiting any longer for his return, so let's go home. I
didn't want to go, but Mom said that if Terry did show up, her
boyfriend would take him in and give us a call. Reluctantly I
gave up the search.
Please understand that Mom
loved the dog too. She was very kind to Terry and the dog was loyal to her
as well. I could tell Mom was
crestfallen, so despite my overwhelming fury, I stopped chewing her out.
What good would it do? It wouldn't bring my dog back, would
it? I cried softly all the
way home. I hurt so bad. My body ached with grief.
How would I ever survive this loss?
When we pulled up to our apartment, I was shocked to see
Terry sound asleep on the porch. Not once this entire day had
it ever occurred to me he might have come here. This was
insane! Our apartment was too
far away! Heck, I couldn't have found this place on my own, so
how did Terry do it? Wasn't I supposed to be smarter than him?
This was the first time it ever dawned on me my dog had powers I could
not even conceive of.
At first I worried Terry might
be dead. He didn't even look up as our car pulled in. I rolled down the window
and screamed "Terry!!" at the top of my
lungs. To my relief
lifted his head. It took him a while, but he slowly
got up. Good. Serves him right. That damn dog was totally exhausted from his
adventure. But then I was worried that he was hurt or
Fortunately that stupid
dog was just sore. The moment I got out of the car, Terry came back to life.
He launched himself into mid-air and I caught him up in my arms. Terry
was not a small dog, so he practically knocked me down in the process.
It was a joyous reunion
to be sure.
Oh, did I cry. I cried my eyes out. When I finally calmed
down, I took a good look at him. What a mess! Terry was really bedraggled. His hair was matted and tangled
up with an assortment of grass, mud, twigs and leaves stuck in his
He was also
very hungry. As I put his food down,
the joy I felt was indescribable. I just couldn't stop crying. Through
profuse tears, I chewed him out fiercely for putting me
through that ordeal. "How could you do that to me, you
stupid terrible dog!"
continued to sob giant crocodile tears with relief as I watched him eat.
could not have cared less about the agony he caused me, so I still
wasn't done being mad at him.
"You stupid dog! You are the
worst dog ever! I am so mad at you! I'm going to make
you sleep in the yard tonight on the muddy wet grass!! I
hope you are miserable! I've made up my mind for sure.
Tomorrow I'm going to have you fixed. Serves you
After his meal,
it was time for his bath. Terry licked my face to
apologize and I
started crying all over again. Terry slept in
bed with me that night with my arms wrapped tightly around
him. The thought of losing my dog was the worst pain
I had ever felt in my life.
By morning I started to
recover from my ordeal. I wasn't going to give
that damn dog a single compliment to his face, but privately I was incredulous at Terry's
accomplishment. Our neighbor said Terry had been sleeping there
our doorstep all afternoon. I was amazed. Left to my own
devices, I myself could not
possibly have made the same trip without a map. Starting from
that other house, I did not have the first idea which direction to go.
So how did Terry know which
way to go?
I was impressed. Terry had accomplished
something that I could not match. Yes, using maps or asking
for directions, I could have done it. But without help, there was no way I could have found my way home from where we
had spent the night, much less during a hurricane. Ten miles is quite a
distance under the best of conditions, but Terry's journey had taken
place in the dark of night amidst a blinding, drenching
storm. Where did this homing instinct come from? How did he ever find his way
back under those
We recall I cut my eye
out with a knife when I was five. For some reason, they
bandaged both eyes. While I lay blind in the hospital bed, I
asked Aunt Lynn to continue the book I had been reading, Lassie Come Home.
It was a story about a collie that crossed Scotland
on her own.
A poor family had sold Lassie to a man who took the dog to his farm
a hundred miles away. He proceeded to mistreat the dog badly.
Lassie missed her boy and his family, so the dog escaped and began
the long journey home.
I cried buckets as Aunt Lynn
read the story. Hearing me cry, poor Lynn didn't know whether to stop or
continue. She tried to stop, but I begged her to keep reading.
I could not bear not to know what happened next. Aunt Lynn was sobbing
the entire time. She
later told me she couldn't decide whether her tears were for poor me or
for that poor lost dog in the book.
Despite my tears, that story had seemed ridiculous to me.
Good story, but total fantasy. No dog
can possibly travel hundreds of miles without getting permanently lost. Now
after what Terry had done, I changed my mind.
How my own collie found his way home in
that storm is one of the great mysteries of my childhood.
Terry made me believe every word of that book.
Looking back, I can
safely say that Terry was the smartest dog I have ever known.
There would never be another dog like him. Terry was the main
reason I held on to a spark of decency during the tough times ahead.
Lassie Come Home
So what does this story
have to do with Mrs. Ballantyne? Not a damn thing.
Except that perhaps one begins to understand why I yearned for a
mother who would help me grow up the right way, someone I could
trust, someone who might encourage me, someone like Mrs. Ballantyne.
Instead I was stuck with
a mother who deliberately infuriated me with her passive aggressive
cruelty. There were times during
my childhood when I absolutely hated my mother. The Hurricane
Carla incident was so senseless, I never forgave her. She knew Terry meant the world to
me. She knew I loved that dog with
every fiber of my being.
And yet she still opened
the door. Unforgiveable.
I fully admit I grew up
twisted and bitter, but you know what?
I had my reasons!
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
Divorce, start 4th grade at St. John's,
Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me
inferiority begin to develop vis a vis the Mother's Guild
Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond
6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
Illness at boy
scout camp leads to invisibility