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Sweet Meets Mr. Richards
by Charles H. Nipper

This chapter from Charles Nipper's book SWEET
describes a beautiful friendship. You'll fall in love with
Sweet and his buddy as you read this lovely story
which proves life's lessons may be learned in gentle ways.


__________________________________


On Monday morning, after eating a bowl of oatmeal, his regular everyday fare for breakfast except for his Sunday cinnamon rolls, Sweet rose from the table and searched for his mother. He found her nursing Jimmy in her bedroom. He silently observed Jimmy having his breakfast for a few moments, then asked, “Mama, can I go downtown for a little while?”

Florence wearily replied, “Sweet, it can’t even be nine o’clock yet. The stores don’t open till nine-thirty. Even if they were open, you don’t have any money to spend. Lord a’mercy! I’ll sure be glad when you start school.”

“Mama, I just want to see if I can find a Tampa newspaper somebody threw away with the funny papers still in it. There’s this man in the funny papers who flies airplanes and got in trouble with this gang of robbers and he’s tryin’—”

“Sweet! Stop! Go on and be back before dinner. You hear me?”

In the Donner household, the mid-day meal was called dinner; the evening meal was called supper.

“Yes, Mama. We’ll be back before dinner. Bye!”

Sweet was so delighted with the prospect of a morning free to wander wherever he wished that he sauntered almost to the corner, to First Avenue, before he realized that Prince was not with him. “Traipsing,” as Florence called it, without Prince made him uncomfortable for some reason. Everyone who knew Sweet also knew that he and his dog were inseparable.

Benny had purchased Prince from the owner of a small Spanish café located near the Farmers Market in Tampa two years ago, when Prince was about half-grown. This café was where Benny ate supper three times a week when he drove to the market to pick up fruit and vegetables for Wilson Produce Company, his employer. One evening after he had eaten, the café owner, Mr. Garcia, showed Benny his dog’s new puppies. Bennie took a shine to Prince.

After a few months of more bantering than bargaining, Mr. Garcia let Benny have the dog for two dollars. Shortly after he arrived on Bridge Street, Prince adopted Sweet as his responsibility, and Sweet adopted him as his personal friend.

Just as Sweet decided to go back home and find Prince, the dog came bounding out of the yard and down the street. When he reached him, he butted Sweet with his head and made a sound not quite a growl. With both their anxieties relieved, they proceeded to First Avenue, turned left, and leisurely proceeded to the downtown area, three blocks away.

There was at least one bench in front of each commercial establishment of First Avenue. While passing the Langford Hotel Restaurant, Sweet spotted a Tampa newspaper on the bench near its entrance. Inconveniently, an elderly gentleman was sitting on a portion of it, apparently dozing. Sweet recognized the man right away as a tourist. First of all, he was wearing a suit with a vest, but the dead giveaway of his status was the man’s headwear. It was an Irish vintage tweed cap. He also had a walking cane that appeared to be very expensive.

Sweet said to himself, “Sure wish he’d move It probably ain’t his paper He just happened to sit on it Maybe if I just eased it out, he won’t even notice If it’s his paper and he wakes up, he’ll have the law on me.”

While trying to make up his mind what to do, Sweet sat down on the end of the bench. After considering this impasse a few moments, he called Prince much louder than was necessary. Though Prince was no more than seven feet away, he could have distinctly heard the summons even had he been a block or more away. The dog was startled, frozen in place. The old gentleman's eyes sprang open.

“Young man, is the dog before us yours?”

“Yes, sir, that’s Prince.”

“And is Prince hard of hearing, young man?”

“No sir, least I don’t think he is. But he acts like it sometimes.”

“Hmm, I see,” said the old gentleman, then closed his eyes.

Fearing the man was going to doze off again, Sweet hurriedly asked, “Sir, is that paper you’re sittin’ on yours?”

He glanced down where Sweet was pointing, then replied, “Why, yes, it is. Why do you ask?”

Taking a deep breath, Sweet explained, “Well, sir, we get the Palmera paper but we don’t get the Tampa paper that’s got Smilin’ Jack in it and he’s a pilot that’s always catchin’ robbers and bad guys, but right now these robbers got him. At least they had him Friday, so—”

The old gentleman raised his hand to indicate he had heard enough. To himself he said, “That explains the dog’s temporary deafness.”

To Sweet he said, “Do you wish me to loan you my paper so you can ascertain the fate of the pilot?”

“Er, yes sir.”

“Well, I never lend things to people with whom I am unacquainted. I have been introduced to Prince, but I haven’t heard your name.”

“Huh? Oh, yes sir. My name is Sweet Donner, but everbody calls me Sweet.”

“Obviously ‘Sweet’ is a nickname. My name is Richards. Now let’s see if I can find your hero for you.” Repositioning his glasses, he thumbed through the paper until he reached the comics page, then found the Smilin’ Jack strip. He quickly read the dialogue, folded the paper neatly with the comic page outside, and handed it to Sweet.

Mr. Richards was more than a little surprised when Sweet read aloud the dialogue exactly as he had just read it himself.

“Sweet, how old are you?”

“I’m five, sir.”

“I see. And who has taught you to read?”

“Oh, sir, just about everybody, I reckon. But mostly my sister Ruth.”

“She seems to be a very competent, er, good teacher. Tell me about her.”

With this question and other well-crafted inquiries, Mr. Richards obtained a fairly good picture of the Donner family and its situation, all in the space of half an hour. Sweet’s revelations left him half-intrigued, half-dismayed.

The old man was a retired Bethlehem Steel Corporation executive. He was now 72-years old and had been retired for 4 years. When his wife died, he decided that he had worked long enough. He still maintained a home in Pittsburgh, but spent half of each year in Florida. His only child was a daughter. She and her husband, a lawyer, and their only child also lived in Pittsburgh. Mr. Richard’s grandson was eleven at the time.

Mr. Richards’ intuition told him that the ragamuffin seated next to him was honest and genuine in his representations, yet his customary caution reminded him that small boys often make innocent, but constructive, interpretations of the facts. More to satisfy his curiosity than to test Sweet’s veracity, he decided to vary the route of his morning walk.

“Sweet, would you like to join me on my morning walk? I believe I will walk as far as Bridge Street, or perhaps a little farther, this morning.”

“Oh, yes sir! If you go far enough, I can show you my house.”

Mr. Richards stood up, neatly refolded the newspaper and placed it in his coat pocket, grasped his cane, and began his walk with Sweet and Prince. They had gone no farther than twenty feet when Sweet began prating to Mr. Richards as if the old gentleman were a member of Sweet’s own age group and had recently moved to Palmera.

“This picture show ain’t much good. The Bijou has all the good movies and they last longer Mama likes the stuff Miss Rivers sells, but she says it costs too much I like the boards she throws away out back, the kind that cloth comes wrapped on They really make a pop when you hit ‘em with your fist – it’s just holler paper. The people who work here in Sears Roebuck are all dressed up, but Benny said they’re all just as poor as we are That great big buildin’ there is the Post Office I think Daddy helped build it Let’s cross over here.”

When they turned right to cross the street at the corner, Prince was already positioned in the middle of the street. Taken aback, Mr. Richards asked, “Does Prince always place himself in the street whenever you cross one?”

“Yes, sir. My sister Ruth says he’s gonna get runned over one of these days, or somebody drivin’ a car is gonna get so mad they’ll shoot ‘im. I guess he thinks I don’t know how to look,” Sweet chuckled.

After they walked across First Avenue to its southern side, they turned left and crossed Jackson Street. Sweet resumed his commentary and explanations for his new friend.


Please click here for page 2 of this story


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