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Peter & The Wolf, Aklavik Style or How To Terrorize Your Sister
What do Sergei Prokofieff, a Russian children’s story “Peter and the Wolf”, Aklavik, sisterly torment, and an insane Husky have in common?
You probably already know that Prokofieff took that simple Russian folk tale and created wrote the brilliant orchestration that enchanted Walt Disney. Disney was so enthralled that he was moved to create his equally brilliant animated feature based on the story. I remember the featured segment on The Walt Disney Show that highlighted their collaboration, and being engrossed by the black and white images of the two men eagerly discussing various points of the narrative. It is a fascinating insight into the creative processes of the two, each a giant in his own field.
Some time after this aired, some well-intentioned relatives, probably our grandparents, thought to raise our cultural awareness by gifting us with the popular record set, one of the many commercial offerings from the Disney Studios to capitalize on the film’s popularity. In those days movies weren’t released for the home theater market in DVD or Blue-Ray. There was no home theater market - we went to the theater to see the movies.
The record set came with its own, attached, full-size book illustrated with beautiful full-color stills from the movie. We were entranced. Following the text word for word, we played those records over and over until we knew them note-perfect. I can still hear the theme for each of those characters and creatures as I write this.
At the time, we were living in Aklavik, having returned for our father’s second posting there, and those records were another connection with our family down south, or “outside” as we termed it up there.
My two sisters and I were sharing a tiny bedroom – the only bedroom in our tiny house. My parents slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room. Our luxurious accommodations included a set of bunk beds for my older sister and me, a small chest of drawers at the foot of the bed which held our clothes, and our youngest sister’s crib, which just fit against the end wall of the room. A smallish bookcase stood under the window, holding our library of children’s books and a few toys.
Of course, being the eldest, my sister had the top bunk. Whenever we were sufficiently annoyed with each other, our retaliatory tactics sometimes took on a physical nature. If I braced my feet against the springs and straightened my legs, I could cause my sister’s mattress to bulge upwards. If I did it quietly, the squeak of the springs was inaudible, and I certainly couldn’t be accused of “bouncing” her. Bouncing my sister was strictly forbidden both because of the noise that activity entailed and for the safety factor – the bunks were a tad rickety…but a stealthy, carefully noiseless lift was still within the letter of the law, while causing maximum discomfort for the tenant above.
My sister would retaliate by peeling back her mattress and threatening to spit on me. She never did, in fact, but usually the threat was enough to send me diving under the covers wailing that I was about to be drooled upon.
This was usually ended by a brusque but nautical “Pipe down!” or “Knock it off!” from our father. We both knew better than to push him past “Don’t make me come in there…” That meant swift and decisive retribution, and a spot of sisterly torture simply wasn’t worth a warm bottom.
Our play area indoors was the only open piece of floor in the bedroom - the small space directly under the window, and in front of the door. In this area, we would set out the record player and stack the records to be played, one of our favorite pastimes when our parents were out for the evening.
My loving older sister always played a little game with me. This game was one I thought of as “Hah! Made you look!” after the triumphant crow the winner would unleash to mock the loser.
This game would begin at some point during another activity, started with a brief glance over the shoulder of your opponent. This would be followed by a slightly longer glance, this time displaying some alarm. As soon as the victim made eye contact, the aggressor would immediately look down or away and concentrate studiously on the activity at hand.
The glances would then escalate, each containing more concern, building to fear, and culminating in a prolonged stare reflecting shock and horror, causing the victim to finally flinch, casting a quick look over her shoulder to see what fearsome creature lurked behind her.
At first, this game required that I be positioned with my back to the door or window, but as time progressed, and she became more adept at playing, I could be sitting with my back to the wall, and she could still get me to eventually glance over my shoulder. My sister was very good at this form of sisterly torment. I could never catch her as often as she caught me, but I did manage to make her flinch on a few occasions.
Combining this game with our Walt Disney album of “Peter and the Wolf” was guaranteed to produce the desired results, especially if she waited ‘til after the introduction of the wolf’s theme. You will remember I mentioned earlier we had the album memorized almost note for note…? The suspense of waiting for her to begin the game, knowing she would, was almost as unbearable as her gleeful chortling at my inevitable flinch.
What I never shared with either of my sisters was the nightmares that would inevitably follow.
Before we can go there, though, I must introduce to you Dick
the Dog. Descended from Siberian Huskies, the American Sled Dog, Malamute and his Arctic Wolf
forebears, Dick was a noble specimen of his breed. Stocky and strong,
thick-coated and eager to pull, Dick was a valuable work dog, and a good worker.
His owner lived in the second house from the road at the beginning of the village proper, just where the road and the boardwalk turned to lead away from the base, where we lived, into the Village of Aklavik.
All the children in Aklavik knew where Dick the Dog lived, and, as well, everyone in town knew if Dick’s owner was in town or out on his trap line. We, the base children, knew because as we walked down the sidewalk every week day on our way to and from school, Dick would lunge at the end of his chain, snarling and snapping ferociously at us.
Nobody speculated what would happen should that chain ever break or should Dick slip his collar. We knew that these were work dogs, not pets, and that some of them could be dangerous. We all had heard what happened to drivers who had hand raised their dogs and yet had been savaged when they fell in front of their teams while breaking trail, and we all knew why any good driver carried a whip or club…just in case.
Dick the Dog was a special case, though. He wasn’t vicious towards everyone – he just had a problem when it came to children. He hated kids – all kids…anybody’s
kids. We were sure he was crazy. Whenever we walked by, though, his abiding lust to tear us apart was apparent in the savagery of his wild attempts to break his chain and get at us.
Occasionally Dick would slip his chain. Then the curfew siren would sound and that meant only one thing – Dick was loose. Kids would vanish off the streets faster than ice cream cones in a heat wave, snatched inside by their parents, base folk and villagers alike.
We didn’t go in fear of Dick – he wasn’t always on our minds - but arctic survival skills were learned or not at your peril, and learning what to do if we ever heard that siren was one such thing.
The siren only went off once during the day while I lived in Aklavik, and it was, indeed, because of Dick. My friend and I went quickly indoors, and I dutifully played at my her house where I had been when the curfew sounded, waiting until my dad came for me.
Dick’s recapture, through the courage of our new female husky pup, Cricket, is the subject for another hub. For many years though, Dick remained my personal bête noire, and when my sister succeeded in terrifying me yet again during “Peter and the Wolf”, it was Dick the Dog who stalked my dreams for several ensuing nights.
My wolf appeared on the dusty, corduroy road of my dreams to the sound of a curfew siren. My wolf, which turned slowly towards me and approached step by silent, measured step, didn’t have the long stylized snout of Disney’s creation. My wolf had the thick-coated, stocky build of a good work dog, and the two white over-eye spots of Dick the Dog.