This guy in the photo.
(Before I knew what a mensch was.)
Seven years old, and I’m in Denver hanging out at the estate of my Great Uncle Dick Youngkrantz, Aunt Ginny, and the dogs, Erik and Luddie.
Mom and Dad are inside the spacious three-story brick home, visiting with Ginny and Dick, ignoring the sporadic dog yips, mixing afternoon cocktails.
Dad would later tell how, when he shared with Dick how much the army paid him per month, the Uncle patted him on the shoulder and said, “Son, that’s less than my weekly liquor store budget.”
Every family has a character. Some more than others.
Dick is one of ours.
He’s a hairdresser. Mom says he’s famous.
Wealthy ladies call him Mister Richard.
In the back yard, I kick back on a reclining lawn chair with a stack of Marvel Comics and an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola.
While the other grown-ups are having a grand old time talking Nixon and Vietnam, Dick walks outside with a stack of newspapers.
Shows me a supplement called The Mini-Page.
It’s two pages of stories, puzzles, and cartoons for kids. Dick saves ’em because he likes the jokes.
When it’s time to leave, he says I can take the pages home.
A week or two later, the first envelope arrives.
It’s decorated, as many of them will be, with a cartoon rhebus that relates to my name and address. Inside is the newest copy of The Mini-Page and a note from Uncle Dick.
“Knew you weren’t getting this in your home town paper. Thought you’d enjoy reading it again.”
Then I throw it away. Mom makes me write a thank you note.
Then another envelope comes. And this one has some outlandish cartoon mice spelling out my name with blocks of cheese.
And a couple weeks later, a third one. This time Dick’s got the mice building a rebus that asks a riddle.
I have to lift a construction paper flap for the answer.
So for the next two years, my pen pal and me swap envelopes.
Mine are white, bland, with thank-you notes that briefly tell of my lackluster school days.
Uncle Dick’s missives are full of riddles and rhymes, crazy cartoon mice and groan-inducing puns.
You know: soul food.
The holidays are well represented with mouse-painted Easter eggs, a Christmas tree, and a tumbling array of numbers that ring in the year, 1974.
Dick alludes to sports stars (A character from Snuffy Smith is “Hank Aaron” to get to my house –instead of “hankerin'”) and popular ’70s fads (as when he and Ginny are “streaking” to our house and the cartoon characters are tastefully drawn sans clothing).
Eventually, Dick and Ginny move to a place where The Mini-Page doesn’t appear, and I move to a place where I wouldn’t read it even if it did.
In the end, more than 60 entries in the envelope series arrive at my house.
I save around half of them–pasting them into a scrap book.
A long time later the scrapbook gets ruined in a flood, and I rescue 27.
An internet search tells me The Mini-Page, created by Betty Debnam in 1969 is still syndicated to hundreds of newspapers.
Somewhere, some lucky seven-year olds are getting their weekly fix of dopey jokes and silly puzzles.
But they’re unlucky too in that they aren’t getting the treasure I got.
They’re not getting the envelopes. Or the memories.
This guy in the photo.
How can I ever forget him?