Tuesday was "Take Your Dog To School Day." At least it was for Ricky the Beagle.
And by school, I don't mean obedience class. No, my dog has already been kicked out of two of those. I mean real school. Elementary school.
Specifically, in this case, Bryant Elementary School in Bridgeport.
I visit there once a month, as a volunteer, to read aloud to the kids. I go to the same second-grade classroom each time, Mr. P's, so I've gotten to know the kids pretty well, and they've gotten to know me. I've often told them about my dog, and last month, I read them some stories I'd written about him. Of course, two things happened. One: All of them wanted to tell me about their dogs. And two: All of them clamored for me to bring Ricky in for a visit.
I certainly wasn't going to let them down.
But on Tuesday's visit, it was first things first. While Ricky waited in the car, I did my reading thing. In this month's book, "Willow Buds: The Tale of Toad and Badger," Archibald Toad the Third, a.k.a. Toady, becomes good friends with Badger when Toady apologizes for (not so accidentally, I believe) ripping the tail off Andy, Badger's stuffed toy. As is always the case, hands were raised all over the classroom as I read. Since this wasn't my first rodeo, I knew that if I stopped for questions or comments, we'd never get to the end of the book. One kid in particular, R., constantly waves his hand high, like a flag. When I call on him, he pauses, squirms, and says, "Uh ... I forget." He was doing this again on Tuesday. So I asked him to hold his thought until later -- and I was able to finish the story.
Before I went outside to fetch the guest of honor, I left the kids with a challenge. "This book is based on Kenneth Grahame's `The Wind In the Willows,' which was published way back in 1908," I told them. "Can you figure out how many years ago that was?"
Ricky, as I could have predicted, was curled up and snoring in the shotgun seat. I lifted him to the sidewalk. He s-l-o-w-l-y stretched. He did his shakety-shake. Now he was ready to meet his public.
First the people in the office made a fuss over my handsome dog, though I did hear a comment or two about his "sturdy" build -- and that maybe he could use "a good workout."
"Earmuffs, Ricky," I whispered to him.
There was no such criticism from any of the kids in Mr. P.'s second-grade class -- of that I can assure you. Ricky got a royal welcome as the kids, table by table, kneeled on the floor to get a piece of him. They petted him. They felt his velvety ears. They tried to shake his paw. They loved him. They ate him up.
My regal beagle took it all patiently, like the trooper that he is.
All the kids had questions.
"How old is he?"
"He just turned 10 this month."
"Why is he named Ricky?"
"My youngest son named him after Ricky Williams, the football player."
"Can he do any tricks?"
"Oh, yes," I answered. "He can climb up on the dining room table and steal your hamburger!"
Eventually I tugged on his leash, not wanting him to overstay his welcome. On our way out, I remembered what I'd asked the kids earlier.
"So how many years ago was that book published?"
"One hundred and five!" they chanted. Mr. P. said they'd handled it as a math problem and worked it out together on the blackboard.
"Oh ... and R.," I said, "what was that question you wanted to ask me before, while I was reading?"
He looked up at me sheepishly. "Uh ... I forget."
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and his "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with his blogs -- "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website at http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/; and "Old School, New School" on the Hearst website at http://blog.ctnews.com/oldschoolnewschool.