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Jefferson Weaver: Dragons, dogs and buddies

By Jefferson Weaver

Many of us of a certain age bonded over significantly traumatic childhood experiences.

We rode bikes with no helmets, drank from garden hoses, ate dirt, and somehow survived. We watched Bambi’s mom get killed and the original Cruella de Vil try her dangdest to make a Dalmation coat (back before many of us realized Disney was so anti-hunting). We lived through watching Old Yeller’s Travis give his best friend the last gift of mercy. Friendship was important to us as kids – which is why many kids my age despised Jackie Draper.

Since we didn’t have therapists and pediatric antidepressants back then, some of you may recall Jackie. He was apparently the child of a wealthy family, and he
betrayed a dear, loyal friend, for no reason other than the fact his friend was
apparently not acceptable to society. Their friendship and Jackie’s subsequent
betrayal was so epic it became immortalized in song and on stage, as well as in
literature – even though it was pure fiction, since his friend was Puff the Magic
Dragon.

I am not going to get into whether or not Peter, Paul and Mary were singing about their love of illegal drugs with that song. It’s just a sweet, albeit tragic, children’s song. Don’t overthink it.

Those who insist Puff is about using drugs are just sad, bitter individuals like those who think the moon landing was fake, that Russians elected the president, and that the reason socialism never works is because the wrong socialists are in charge. Indeed, they’re likely not very different from that double-dealing dragon-betraying punk, Jackie Draper.

My bride stills begins to sniffle whenever she hears that sadistically sweet song
about Puff. The song was a significantly traumatic childhood event we shared.
I think it’s amusing how girls and boys react differently to the song and the story.

She remarked once how she wanted to bring Puff home and make him feel better. Then again, girls always want to adopt dragons and unicorns and such.

I remember distinctly how my buddy Ed and several of our friends reacted.

The “Puff” program had been on television show the night before, and we all agreed that we would drag Jackie Draper behind the swing sets, where justice was often dispensed by seven-year-olds, and send him home crying like a girl. Then we’d share our ice cream with Puff, maybe even giving him a Nutty Buddy.

Emotions rose to a fever pitch as we discussed the proper course of action for giving Jackie what would now likely get kids kicked out of school for even mentioning, namely a beatdown for the ages.

The kid didn’t need to abandon his buddy. Jackie was apparently the heir apparent to the kingdom – he could do anything he wanted. So what if society freaked? What were they going to do? Argue with a king whose best pal was an immortal fire-breathing dragon?

Nah. Jackie was a punk.

You don’t betray a friend. None of the boys plotting to avenge Puff were crying, of course. We were sweating. There was sand in our eyes. If there were tears, it was because somebody was angry. Yeah.

There was one philosophy that was mutual amongst girls and boys of that age: You don’t treat a buddy like that. You have your buddy’s back, whether he is a dog, a dragon, or another kid.

It was the same way when Ed’s mom took us all to the movies for his birthday. A
couple of us had coonhunted with dads and uncles, and many of us were caught up in the rebirth of the American longhunter that was growing with the pending
American bicentennial. It seemed natural that Mrs. Morgan would prevent the
possible destruction of her home by a crowd of seven-year-olds by taking us to a
movie – namely, Where the Red Fern Grows.

I don’t think any of us had read the book yet; if Mrs. Morgan had, she either gravely miscalculated her (fairly) well-behaved pack of boys, or she had a sadistic streak deep inside her somewhere. Remembering how pretty she was, and how she so tenderly treated our worst boyhood injuries, I prefer to believe she was misinformed.

If you have never read Wilson Rawls’ classic novel, or seen the movie, I suggest you do so before you finish reading this column. I hate handing out spoilers.
As an adult, I see the movie as not really well-written or acted (except by the hounds and Grandpa). Needless to say, for a group of seven- and eight-year-old boys enthralled with long-eared hounds and our own dreams of adventure, it was worthy of at least a dozen Academy Awards.

Until the hounds cornered the panther.

Although it seems impossible for a Southern lady, I am pretty sure Mrs. Morgan ran out of tissues from her voluminous mom-purse. We boys swore that if our dogs ever defended us as Little Ann and Old Dan protected Billy Colman, there would have either been a dead cougar or a dead boy, not a torn-up dog. He had an axe, for crying out loud. Besides, they were his dogs. You don’t let your dogs or your buddies go down on their own. You stand beside them.

We had a gathering down of several families down on the Waccamaw Saturday, and I couldn’t help but smile at the “Fish Brothers” and their buddies as they carefully cast their lines at likely-looking holes, hoping to entice a bass, perch or even a blackfish. They romped and played with a big friendly dog, and each made sure the other had hearing protectors when they got the chance to fire a rifle.

They were dirty, sweaty, and wide open. They were kids like we used to be, and I
think they’re all the healthier for doing so – and they also understood the value of friendship. I sincerely doubt that a one of those kids who worried their moms and amused their dads Saturday would abandon a loyal friend, whether he was a dog or a dragon.

I still feel the need to write a new last verse…something about how Puff sits down, thinks about it, realized he got a raw deal, and becomes the bull dragon in another movie I love, Reign of Fire. Mayhap I should find one of my similarly traumatized childhood friends, and write a new verse for the infamous Peter, Paul and Mary song:

“Puff the Magic Dragon,
Wiped away his tears.
And said to himself, that little punk
Will meet his darkest fears…”

Then maybe we could befriend Puff, and go buy him some ice cream – maybe even a Nutty Buddy.

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