My Father And Mrs. Roosevelt’s Dogs

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Mother said she doubted it—not Mrs. Roosevelt’s dogs. My father cut her off.

“I don’t care whose dogs they are!” he went on. This was a free country; the Roosevelt dogs could be as rabid as anyone else’s. He wanted my sister checked out immediately by a doctor and both dogs tested for rabies tonight.

Mother refused. A hot argument followed, which my father won. With considerable embarrassment Mother then telephoned Mrs. Roosevelt and explained the situation. Mrs. Roosevelt seemed to understand her predicament and promised to send the dogs to the veterinarian early the next day. She would give us his report on the rabies tests as soon as they were ready.

The next morning Mother took my sister to the doctor, who pronounced the wound a superficial scratch that was healing nicely. He left it unbandaged. It was a matter of days, I don’t recall how many, before the veterinarian’s report on the dogs arrived, addressed to my mother and delivered by a servant of Mrs. Roosevelt’s. The report was negative—the dogs were not rabid—and my father, who had been anxious and angry during the wait, relaxed. Along with the report the servant delivered a dozen long-stemmed red roses, with a charming, funny note in Mrs. Roosevelt’s handwriting that melted even my father. Its text is lost to me, because the card is gone.

Unfortunately the article I wrote about Mrs. Roosevelt for my school paper is not lost. It turned up recently to haunt me from the pages of an old scrapbook. It contains not one word about what actually took place that day, not one mention of my family or of dogs. I was evidently too ashamed to include them. Instead I wrote a dry, flat story straight out of the book Mrs. Roosevelt had given me—not only borrowing its facts but also plagiarizing its quotes and pretending that they had emerged from an exclusive interview. In my story there were no other guests—just Mrs. Roosevelt, alone, pouring tea for me.

When I could not find quotes in the book to suit my needs, I seem to have invented them—for instance, all those questions I never got to ask, with answers Mrs. Roosevelt never gave. I made up the entire interview, but no one except my father ever challenged its veracity. A purist, he believed that anything short of the truth should not be written at all. He said fakery would always be found out, but in this case he was wrong. In my entire youth I never told a lie that was so uncontested or so richly rewarded. My phony account was a huge success among my readers, and in its wake I proudly sent Mrs. Roosevelt a copy. She was indeed a great lady, among the last of her breed. She made no objection; she simply never replied.

We had no further relations with Mrs. Roosevelt, who died in 1941. Both my parents are also gone. The house on Sixth-fifth Street is now part of Hunter College; my high school, with its wonderful, sleazy newspaper, is defunct; the tempestuous girl in party socks has grown up to become my close friend—and the owner of a dog—and I am now older than my mother was that April day in 1938. Yet I still feel that I owe somebody, someplace, this honest revision of my story.