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Photo by woodleywonderworks

Remember when you were little and you got to take one of your treasures to school for show and tell? I would take my favorite Barbie or a game. My little sister took our German Shepherd. Without my mother’s knowledge or permission. There. I just told you something. Now, let me show you.

For about five years in the 1970s, my family lived in Largo, Florida. Someone had created a neighborhood in an old, abandoned, grapefruit grove, and we had five grapefruit trees the size of oaks in our yard. Now the only months that were cool in Florida were January and February, so most mornings we woke up to the pungent scent of citrus. My parents burned out at least three juicers a year, and every breakfast included a tall glass of tart grapefruit juice that tickled our tongues when we drank it. We loved to package up the ripe grapefruit and ship it back home to Wisconsin to our relatives, and my father would take a Sharpie and write funny faces and messages on the almost volleyball-sized fruit. We missed home, but we loved living in virtually perpetual summer.

We had a beautiful pet German Shepherd growing up named Venus. She was more black than cream colored, and had the warmest brown eyes and softest fur. She was the most patient and gentle dog and would have done anything for my sister and me, but the average stranger wouldn’t have known that. When I was in the third grade and my little sister Jaime was in kindergarden she decided one spring morning, unbeknownst to anyone in the family, that Venus would make the perfect show and tell subject. She snapped on the dog’s leash and trotted off with her to Oakhurst Elementary School, which was only a few short blocks away. Jaime and Venus managed to slip off undetected and made it to her kindergarden class in record time.

Of course, if I had seen her leave with the dog, I would have tattled to our parents.  Jaime and I gave a whole new meaning to the words “sibling rivalry,” and we lived to get each other in trouble! Forty-something years later, we still do. Besides…I owed her for that weekend-long time-out that I got when I cut her bangs. They ended up being crooked and really short, but I thought I had improved on my sister’s dark exotic Italian looks. She got all the glossy, wavy, chestnut brown hair and olive complexion, and I ended up with all the frizzy, dull reddish-brown hair and rosacea. I needed to even the playing field, but my parents just didn’t get it. I spent the weekend sitting in a chair in the corner of my lavender bedroom with the white furniture and canopy bed covered in purple violets. It was a beautiful, girly bedroom but no place to spend the weekend banned from our refreshing in-ground pool enclosed in a screened-in room in our back yard. But I digress.

Jaime’s kindergarden was in its own separate building, round in shape and built with red brick surrounded by a low red brick wall. As you can imagine, her class went crazy, squealing with joy, to see our dog at school, and Venus was in a heavenly frenzy, barking wildly and frantically licking all those little kids’ faces. However, Jaime’s teacher was not amused. In fact, she was terrified. When someone from the school office had finally contacted my mother to come and get the dog ASAP, she found the teacher plastered to the outer wall of the kindergarden sobbing in fear. My mother tried really hard not to laugh at the poor woman. She was young after all and not a seasoned teacher yet. She was perfectly equipped for teaching little kindergarden kids but not so tolerant of having killer guard dogs come to school for show and tell. My mother corralled the dog, shoved her into the brown family station wagon, and beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat.

I don’t remember if my little sister got in trouble or not.  I know she was the most popular kid in her class that day.  I also know a note went home from school advising parents as to the inappropriateness of live creatures with big teeth for show and tell.  I’m pretty sure my mother paid more strict attention to what we had with us when we headed off for school in the morning. Backpack? Check. Lunch box? Check. Jacket and umbrella? Check. No pets? Check. Those were the days. I miss their simplicity and innocence.

So what is show and tell for college kids? It’s using the five senses to describe something in writing so that your reader experiences a story with you rather than just being told what happened. In the book, Writing Tools, by Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tool #14 is called “Get the Name of the Dog.” The author prefaces the tool by saying, “Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses” (Clark 72). By incorporating the smell of citrus, the taste of the tart juice, the feel of the dog’s soft fur, the sounds of the dog barking and kids squealing, and the sight of the sobbing teacher plastered to the wall of the school, you live the story with me.


Clark, Roy Peter.  “Get the Name of the Dog.” Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. 1st ed. Little: New York, 2006. 72. Print