'I Thought My Name was Butch' a collection of short, engaging stories

‘I Thought My Name was Butch’ a collection of short, engaging stories

“I Thought My Name Was Butch” by Ross Van Dusen.

“I Thought My Name was Butch” is the title of a collection of very short, engaging stories by Albuquerque writer-artist Ross Van Dusen.

The funny-ha-ha and funny-strange vignettes are drawn from Van Dusen’s remembrances of his childhood in a blue-collar neighborhood on Detroit’s west side.

Most of the stories are a single page in length. The length, plus the direct, down-to-earth writing style, make the stories easy to digest.

“I didn’t want a book you read cover-to-cover like a novel, but one you could read a few pages at a time and put down,” the 84-year-old Van Dusen said in an interview. “I wanted a book in a form that would be palatable to the casual reader.”

Indeed, readers will savor the author’s personal approach that opens windows into his formative years.

Ross Van Dusen

Here is a story that links you to the book’s title. The story is “Your Name is Ross,” in which the author’s mom is summoned to school his second week of kindergarten.

Van Dusen writes: “It seems I didn’t answer to my name when I was called upon. They knew I wasn’t deaf – when they got my attention, I would respond. So what was going on?”

The author explains that his dad’s name was Ross. So his parents called Ross, the son, by the nickname Butch to avoid confusion at home. His neighborhood pals also knew him as Butch. That’s why at school he didn’t reply when called by his given name.

After the school visit, his mom began calling him Rossie at home. “Jeez, a name change at only 5 years old? Gimme a break,” he bemoaned. As it turned out, he recalls paying a little more attention in class as the renamed Rossie. A little more.

School plodded along for him at a snail’s pace, forever uneventful. On any given day when asked by his mom what he learned in school, he shrugged, saying he couldn’t remember anything.

Each story ends with a comment by the author. “Your Name Is Ross” concludes with Van Dusen whining about his unbearable in-class boredom: “Hey, (Mom) didn’t have to sit still, hours on end.”

Stories vary in setting and subject, from getting into mischief at school, to visiting grandparents, getting sick taste-testing plants for the domestic war effort (World War II) with his sister Pat, and watching the soot-covered man deliver coal in a wheelbarrow to the basement bin.

In one story, baby Butch’s skin has turned orange; an overabundance of carotene from eating too many mashed carrots. So he began eating more greens. No, he writes, his skin did not turn green.

In another, Butch punched a boy off the seat next to him in class. He wanted a red-headed girl to sit there.

In a tale that’s bound to make you laugh out loud, the kindergarten teacher asked what the kids had eaten for breakfast. Usually, Butch ate cereal, oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. But when it was Butch’s turn to speak, he declared, truthfully, “A donut and a cup of coffee.” Van Dusen said the teacher was “stunned to silence.”

There’s a story about Butch’s parents’ friendliness. When company showed up at the family’s house, his mom immediately asked, “Ja eat?” Then his dad jumped in with “Wannabeer?”

On the book’s front cover is a photograph of the author at about age seven.

He’s got a tough-kid look on his face. The look complements the snappy fedora, the dress shoes, baggy pants, a jacket over a sweater, the sweater over a shirt. And a snazzy stringy tie.

Generally, Van Dusen said, the only new clothes he wore as a kid were socks and underwear. Most of his clothing items were hand-me-downs.

Regarding his outfit in the photo, he said, “Normally I didn’t dress that well. That’s probably as dressed up as I’d been at that age.”

The book’s stories reminded this writer of the cast of child actors in the popular 1920s “Our Gang” short film comedies.

The adult Van Dusen retired from a long and successful career in advertising. After retirement, he turned his attention to writing and art (painting, sculpture and book illustrations). He’s written and illustrated prize-winning science and fiction picture books, light-hearted novels and a “Random Thoughts” series.

Van Dusen’s wife Jean edited about a half dozen of his books, including “I Thought My Name Was Butch.”

“She went through it about three times, correcting my grammar,” he said.

“When I write, I fracture the English language. Jean glues it back together.”

Jean praised her husband’s new book as “full of funny, entertaining, and often touching tales of an uninhibited, largely unsupervised boyhood.”

Ross Van Dusen

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