D. E. Larsen, DVM
Rex watched from his bed on the porch as the little red pickup pulled into the driveway. This was Jimmy’s truck now. Rex could remember when his owner, Pete, owned that truck, and they would drive up the lake to fish and play in the water.
Jimmy stepped out of the truck and pulled a bag out with him. Pete met him at the door.
“Jimmy, it is a surprise to see you here,” Pete said as he offered his rough hand for a shake. “Your mother said you were through school, but she didn’t say anything about you coming by here.”
“I have almost a week before I have to go to work,” Jimmy said. “I thought I would stay with you for a few days as I look for a place to stay.”
“Your mother said you would be working here,” Pete said. “You don’t have to look very far for a place to stay. You are welcome here as long as you want to stay. It is just me and old Rex there, and things get sort of slow around here anymore since your Grandmother passed.”
“That sounds great,” Jimmy said. “Maybe I can find some things to help you around the place. And I would like to take you and Rex up to the lake to fish a little like we did years ago.”
“Me and old Rex aren’t as spry as we were years ago,” Pete said. “He only gets off the porch to do his business. I doubt if you can get him to go fishing.”
“Well, we will just have to see about that,” Jimmy said. “If I am going to stay here a while, I better check your refrigerator and stuff. I don’t want to end up eating dry cereal for breakfast.”
After a trip to Thriftway, Jimmy starting unpacking the groceries into the near-empty refrigerator and pantry.
“It will take us a month to eat all this stuff,” Pete said. “And what did you buy this bag of banana chips for?”
“Grandpa, if you remember, Rex used to love those things,” Jimmy said. “If he is going to just lay on the porch and die, the least I can do is give him a little joy in his last days.”
The next morning, Jimmy was up early, and Pete watched him grab a small handful of the banana chips and head out the door.
“I am going for my morning walk,” Jimmy said over his shoulder as he went out the door.
Jimmy went over and put the banana chips in Rex’s food dish and patted him on the head. “We are going get you back to enjoying life,” he said.
Rex watched Jimmy skip off the porch and walk out to the sidewalk. He licked up the banana chips. He remembered how good they were, but it had been years since he had any.
The next morning, Pete watched Jimmy repeat the event of yesterday. Only when he opened the door, Rex was up and waiting at the door. Rex took the banana chips from Jimmy’s hand and wagged his tail.
He followed Jimmy to the edge of the porch and wagged his tail as Jimmy skipped out to the sidewalk.
“I’ll be darned,” Pete said to himself.
The next morning, Jimmy took a larger handful of banana chips. Rex was at the door, and Jimmy gave him half the chips. This morning when Jimmy started out to the sidewalk, Rex followed along with tail wagging.
Jimmy walked with Rex at a leisurely pace, handing Rex a few chips at every street corner. By the time they got back to the house, Rex had a bounce to his step. Pete watched them come through the gate, and Jimmy sat on the porch with Rex and talked about going fishing.
When Jimmy came through the door, Pete said, “I haven’t that dog so happy in a long time, probably since your Grandmother died.”
“Grandpa, you two have just been sitting around here growing old,” Jimmy said. “Maybe you start eating some of those banana chips. You can see how they have helped Rex.”
“I have noticed, I ate a few this morning when you were walking Rex.”
This went on for the next few days. With Jimmy around, Rex was almost back to his old self. He was coming into the house in the evening, laying at Jimmy’s feet. Jimmy would talk with him and pet his head. Rex even rolled over to have Jimmy scratch his belly.
“I have been thinking,” Pete said. “Maybe we should take that trip up to the lake and do a little fishing. I am feeling a lot better since I have been eating those banana chips. I don’t know what it is that is in them, but they sure make me feel a lot better.”
“So, that is a plan,” Jimmy said. “We will go in the morning. Are you ready to go fishing, Rex?”
Rex stood up and wagged his tail with the word ‘go,’ or maybe it was ‘fishing.’ In either case, he was ready.
The fishing trip was not quite like it was in the old days. But Pete and Rex had a good time. Rex swam a little, and both Pete and Jimmy caught a few fish. They got home in the middle of the afternoon, and Jimmy cooked fresh trout for dinner. By now, Rex was sitting at attention beside Jimmy at the dinner table. Jimmy kept a small handful of banana chips at the corner of the table.
“I am so glad that you came to stay with Rex and me,” Pete said. “And finding those banana chips was the best thing that ever happened for me, and Rex too, for that matter.”
The next week, Pete walks into the barbershop for his weekly haircut. Tuesday morning was senior day at Bill’s Barber Shop, and the usual crowd filled the chairs, waiting for their turn. They were not worried about the wait. For most of them, this was their social time. The new spring in Pete’s step was not missed by the crew as Pete came through the door and found a place for his hat on the rack before taking a chair.
“My, don’t you look like a new man this morning,” Bill, the barber, said.
“My Grandson, Jimmy, is living with me for a few weeks or months,” said Pete. “He started feeding my old dog and me some banana chips from Thriftway. I feel like a new man and old Rex is acting like a puppy.”
“You don’t say, do those really work?” Walter said. “I could sure use a boost. Maybe I will have to stop by and pick some up.”
“My wife has been complaining about my activity level for months,” George said. “I might give those a try also.”
“You guys make me laugh,” Bob said. “Banana chips are not going to do a thing for you.”
“Look at Pete, last week we didn’t think he was going to live through the winter,” Walter said. “This morning, he comes bouncing in here like he just found a new girlfriend.”
“Not a new girlfriend, but we had one hell of a fishing trip up to the lake,” Pete said. “And I even had a dream about little gal down the street.”
Bill smiled to himself as he worked. “Next week is going to be interesting,” he said to himself.
When Jimmy went to Thriftway for more banana chips a couple of days later, the bin was close to empty. He thought that was a little odd, but he filled his bag as full as possible. He didn’t want to run out.
“You guys must have had a run on banana chips?” Jimmy said to the checkout lady. “Last week, that bin was full, and today it is close to empty.”
“I don’t know what is going on,” the lady said. “But I think we have had almost every old man in town buying those things. They must be on to something.”
That night at the dinner table, Jimmy remarked, “I couldn’t believe it. Thriftway was just about sold out of banana chips this afternoon.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Pete said. “I told the crew down at the barbershop about how much better Bubba and I are feeling after eating those things. I would guess everybody plus a few were down there buying a supply.”
“That is interesting,” Jimmy said, not wanting to delve into the subject.
The next week at the barbershop, the talk was fast and furious. Almost everybody was feeling so much better they couldn’t get over it. Everyone that is, except for Bob.
“I have to admit,” Bob said. “I went to Safeway with the wife, and I bought a bag of banana chips. I don’t think they did a thing for me.”
“Well, let me tell you, my wife has been really impressed with how they have helped me,” George said. “I haven’t even had to take one of those little blue pills this last week. Your mistake, Bob, was buying the banana chips at Safeway. The ones at Thriftway are the ones that really work.”
“I feel like a million bucks,” Walter said. “And I told the guys that I play poker with on Wednesday evening up at the Elks. A lot of those guys are trying them also. I think they work.”
A couple of weeks later, I got around to Bill’s Barber Shop for a quick hair cut. I took a few minutes out of my clinic time to rush over to the barber chair.
“Doc, I have wanted to talk with you for some time now,” Bill said. “Have you heard all the buzz about these banana chips?”
“I had an old guy in the clinic the other day asking me if I thought banana chips had any magic in them,” I said. “I wondered where that question came from.”
“Will, Pete’s Grandson, came to live him,” Bill said. “And Jimmy started feeding Pete’s old dog Bubba these banana chips that you can buy down at Thriftway. Anyway, Pete sees this old dog start acting like a puppy, so Pete starts eating these banana chips. Then he comes in here acting like he is 40 years old and credits it all the banana chips. Now half the old men in town are scarfing down these banana chips. Thriftway can hardly keep them in stock. Half of them have thrown out their blue pills. I think it is just crazy. What do you think, Doc?”
“Sounds to me like old Bubba needed some attention,” I said. “Old dog lays on the porch, and nobody pays any attention to him, then all of a sudden, someone comes along and gives him a treat every day, pats him on the head, and says come along. The old dog figures, maybe he isn’t going to die after all.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” Bill said. “But what about all these old men? Something must be going on?”
“Old dogs and old men, not much different,” I said. “Pete had pretty much given up since Alice died. Having the grandson around probably did the trick. All the other old guys, it is just the placebo effect. They think it’s going to work, and it does for a lot of them. The placebo effect is potent. That is why they have to do double-blind studies to make certain drugs work. Even the doctor will think something is working if he wants it to work. All these old guys have just been waiting for that spark to show up again.”