August 1, 2016 by poverty2professional
“Wait, she KILLS George?! You can’t do that!”
“…fine. Timmy goes and gets un-bug spray. George comes back to life and they live happily ever after. Go to sleep.”
My father had been telling me stories since I was little. He would tuck me in at night, when I was still getting used to sleeping by myself, and tell me this one story about George the Green Beetle. It was only slightly less sordid than its alternative – a tale about a monkey that was knocked off a wall by getting hit in the head with a brick.
My dad had a genre all his own.
At this age, storytelling also helped me grasp more difficult subjects. When I was about four and my mother started drifting in and out of my life, my father read “Horton Hatches the Egg” to me. In his familiar lyrical measure, Dr. Seuss spins the story of an elephant that protects the nest of a bird who has no interest in returning. The possibility of being raised by a single-parent became more concrete to me. About ten years later when we would lose our home, my dad invented a new story to help us cope. One afternoon, when we were rummaging through our storage unit and swapping out our winter clothes for spring-wear, my dad asked, “Do you remember when I used to have the other storage unit way back in the day?”
“Yeah?” My dad once stored his old drum collection and other hobbyist stuff for a while. Sometimes he would take me along with him. I was very young back then, probably still in the George-the-Green-Beetle days.
“Okay, well, remember the old, olive-green wagon? How you used to love riding in it?”
Yes, I definitely remembered that. Being rolled along, to and fro to the old storage unit. When you’re four, the best part is always getting to go wherever your dad goes.
“That’s how it is for this dog and his egg,” my dad continued. “He rolls it along with him wherever he goes. He never leaves it behind.”
And that’s how the story of “Scruffy and the Egg” began. My father and I wrapped our narrative of family homelessness in the safety of a story. In this dimension, a family dog is left behind when his owners’ home is foreclosed. In his travels to reunite with them, the dog encounters his titular traveling companion, an egg. In their shared quest for finding family and a home again, the pair becomes inseparable. Perhaps family is where you find it.
Beyond our present circumstance of being without a home ourselves, my dad and I drew inspiration from the memories we had: a stray dog that roamed our old neighborhood, the baby birds we’d seen dislodged from nests, the Recession’s rampant home foreclosures and evictions, and families parting with pets as much as each other. My dad and I would go on to tell many stories about Scruffy, the dog, and his egg. At the core of each adventure were the same values my father passed on to me: family and hope.
On a smaller scale, the “Scruffy and the Egg” stories would help us contextualize and, to an extent, soften the everyday struggles of homelessness. We did, after all, euphemistically refer to our shelter as The Pound. It was also easier to see a dog questing for his place of belonging rather than just me and my dad always thinking about our lack thereof. Through our story, we were able to poke fun at some of our troubles. Our difficult caseworker, who often presented more obstacles than solutions or support, became a layabout dogcatcher. Our twenty-year-old car that no longer had shock absorbers transformed the ramshackle red wagon that would appear in later stories. Most important, the dog and his half-hatched egg knew how to have fun. Sometimes they wandered into the local fair, other times they roamed to their local park where the Egg would be mistaken for another dog. Even in the midst of their consistent wandering, they had each other and, more often than not, that was enough. Together the Scruffy Dog and the Egg became more than just me and my dad. They became a lot of other single-parents and children who were searching for their homes in the world.
Having written and illustrated the story, I was able to show my father the finished product before he passed away this spring. This fall, I will self-publish the first story in what will be an ongoing series of “Scruffy and the Egg” children’s books. Because of the nature of the story – encompassing single-parenthood and homelessness – I intend to set aside copies for organizations such as School on Wheels and other service providers that work directly with families in homelessness. I welcome anyone who would like to follow the progress of the book at its proper Facebook page, Scruffy and the Egg.