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Let the ‘Whistle-Pig’ Run Free!

When I was finally old enough to go get the mail on my own –– shortly after overcoming the dread of being shredded to pieces by Laddie, the mean collie dog living next door –– I still made it a point to run to the end of the long driveway as fast as I could.

Running for a well-padded whelp like me was not something that happened naturally. The usual stimulus was either terror or the promise of dessert. In the case of mail, it was anticipating the discovery of something in the mailbox addressed to me.

Most days I came away empty-handed. There were bills for Dad and magazines for Mother. My brother, Todd, was too young to get mail, but even he frequently got baby product coupons sent to the house in his name.

I was certain that I deserved to get mail. I just believed that people in charge of sending mail forgot that I lived here, too –– which is what my Mother said “Occupant” meant.

Occupant mail was fine reading, but it didn’t have a lot of staying power. Once I read the front address line, and flipped it over to learn how tree root killer made our septic tank run smoother, the drama was over.

So my Mother signed me up for a monthly book club. It might have been the greatest single thing she ever did for me outside of shoving me out the birth canal while screaming something about “not in a million years!” to my Father.

On days a book was expected, I’d sprint to the end of the drive, sometimes catching mailman Don before he even had a chance to open the mailbox door. I’d rip the cardboard box open, pull out the book, shove the rest of the mail back into the empty box, and read my way back up the driveway.

I no longer was running to escape FROM something. I was running to escape TO something.

My favorite books without question belonged to The Happy Hollisters series. Written by Andrew E. Svenson (as Jerry West), 33 books chronicled the adventures of the always optimistic sleuthing siblings –– Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly and Sue; plus their dog (Zip), six cats (White Nose and her kittens) and later a donkey (Domingo).

Solving mysteries is exactly what I knew my family would do, if we owned a donkey.

My favorite book in the series I easily remember. The Happy Hollisters and the Whistle-Pig Mystery had all the drama an early reader could muster. Plus, it had a strange new word right there in the title.

No one in my circle of family and friends had a clue what a whistle-pig was. So Mother and I looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica –– which to you younger readers was, in those days, Google with leather binding.

We learned that a whistle-pig is a smallish, pudgy burrowing animal –– a groundhog, gopher, or marmot. Think Caddyshack (1980) minus Bill Murray.

Sure enough, with the help of their old German woodcarver friend, Fritz, the Hollisters solved the mystery. That’s the moment –– at age 5 or 6 –– when I knew I wanted to be a writer!

Then something happened to my dreams. Despite winning a story contest in seventh grade, the self-doubt of high school, the split up of my parents (John and Elaine Hollister would never do that!), the rigors of college, and the lack of early career confidence, the writing dream became buried beneath several layers of “I’m not good enough.”

I did write. I even co-published a sports magazine. However, I mostly put words on paper as a copywriter. I became that guy writing about making your septic tank run smoother.

Hardly Tolstoy.

All these years later, there’s rumbling in my numbles. The embers of a dream smolders inside. I still feel the same urge to write the Great American Novel. I still have a whistle-pig deep within –– I have a story to tell!

I’ve decided that it’s time to do something about that. I’m dusting off the 35,000 words of a novel I started a year ago, and I’m going to finish it! I’m telling you, because I want to be held accountable.

Maybe it’s time that you dusted off an old dream, too. Tell a friend or two, and just go for it!

The Germans have a saying, “Lass das Schwein raus!” . . . Let the pig out! Basically, it means to let yourself go! Be free! Don’t let anyone stop you!

If nothing else, letting your inner pig out might be a fun way to climb out of a rut, and the odds of success are a lot higher than finding a donkey in your mailbox.

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media