Last night I went to the back door and called for my dog. (He’s a white cocker spaniel with buff ears and freckles. We named him “Joe” for the legendary Joe Cocker. But my youngest daughter nicknamed him “JoJo” and it stuck.)

“JoJo!” I called. Nothing. I whistled and clicked my tongue. He didn’t come, and upon further inspection, he was nowhere to be found. Our family dog had vanished.

My eight-year old daughter, the baby of the family, was heartbroken. She ran into the yard crying, yelling his name. “What if someone stole him?” she wailed. “Or if he got hit by a car? Oh what can we do? What can we do?”

“Let’s make some signs,” I said. I went to the place I keep blank poster board and pulled out a sheet. And that’s when I saw it. The sign. “HOW TO VACUUM.”

Now jump to flashback. (Flashbacks should only be used sparingly and never in a picture book. But this is a blog, so here goes. Back to the dog story in a bit.)

My son Kyle, who has autism, was attending high school a few years ago and needed to create a “how-to” demonstration. I can’t remember the class this was for, but I’m assuming home economics. He brought me the instruction sheet for the assignment, and in the blank for the name of the presentation it said, “HOW TO VACUUM” in Kyle’s handwriting. I have no idea if he chose this topic or if it was given to him. I hoped somebody hadn’t dumbed-down the assignment for him, thinking him incapable of a more difficult demonstration.

How does someone demonstrate vacuuming to an audience? I mean, you turn the thing on and push it around the carpet. Gee. But apparently this was the assignment. So we found an old broken vacuum cleaner in the cold storage room for a prop, and came up with some written steps for the poster. Kyle wrote each one in his perfect handwriting, and since he can memorize just about anything with stunning recall, he could soon recite each point and demonstrate it . After rehearsing his “act” a few times I sat down and let him give me the presentation completely on his own while I watched quietly.

“How to vacuum,” Kyle said, clearing his throat. “First, we plug in the vacuum cleaner. Next, we turn on the power button, like this. Then we…” Kyle continued with great concentration, performing the steps with a look of total seriousness on his face. It was so important for him to get this exactly right. Kyle is devoted to exactness and perfection.

I couldn’t help but find it humorous—my son’s intensity in completing such an asinine assignment. And then a terrifying thought crossed my mind. If I was finding this humorous, certainly his class would, too. This was one of Kyle’s mainstream classes where he was surrounded by typical students. Kyle was special. Would the class laugh at him? And if they did, how would Kyle respond?

I drove him to school that morning after wrestling with this concern most of the night. Should I contact the teacher and ask about the assignment? Should I have it switched, or request that it be waived? When I asked Kyle about making a change, he insisted he wanted the topic he was given. It’s part of his do-as-you’re-told-and-do-it-right mentality. I dropped him off at the curb and watched him clunk out the door of the van, carrying the vacuum cleaner a few inches above the ground in one hand with the poster under his opposite arm. I wondered if he was headed for the lion’s den--the vacuum his sword and the poster his shield.

But when Kyle came home, he was all smiles. I asked how his presentation went.

“Good,” he said.

“Did the other students laugh?”

“YESSSSS!” He said, clapping his hands together and then rubbing them back and forth. “I was funny.”

Ohhh boy. Well, it was alright. Kyle had completed his assignment, and had amused his classmates, too. I decided that was okay. They weren’t mean-spirited students, just human beings seeing the humor in the situation. After all, I had seen it, too. I couldn’t protect Kyle from the reactions of others to his intensity and innocence. And really, should I?

Flash forward. I put the poster back and chose a blank one. I couldn’t bear to cut “How to Vacuum” apart just to use the back for "Lost Dog" posters. Kyle was away for the summer with his father, and I missed him and his brother terribly.

My daughter and I drove through the neighborhood, posting signs. “LOST. COCKER SPANIEL. WHITE WITH TAN EARS. IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL….” My daughter slept all night on the couch, so she could let JoJo inside if he clawed at the door. There was no getting her to sleep in her own bed that night. But he never came.

The next morning the phone rang. Someone had found JoJo in their yard and called the vet on his rabies tag. The vet, in turn, looked up the tag number and phoned us. We met the man with our dog in an empty supermarket parking lot. He had JoJo on a lead. My daughter sprang from the parked van and ran to our dog in her nightgown—a scene straight from those “Foundation for a Better Life” commercials.

“JOJO!” I scolded, patting his head. “You’re in big trouble!” He happily grinned, panting at us as if to say his adventure had worn him out. It had all ended well and relatively quickly. I thanked the man, and as my daughter and I went around the neighborhood removing our signs, I thought again of “HOW TO VACUUM.” I amused myself with the notion of posting that sign somewhere in a public place. I'm sure it would incite a few curious smiles. I was grateful for this funny memory of Kyle that sprang from our lost dog incident.

It is a wonderful gift that memories are tied to objects so that we can rediscover and experience them again.


I just wanted to thank you. I received "Bedtime at the Swamp" as a winner on Canda's blog and it's a great book. Love the unforced rhyme. Thank you for the signed copy.
I'm glad JoJo was found :-)

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