“Rosalie! Please don’t come in my studio right now, I’m interviewing a very important person,” Uncle Frank said.
Uncle Frank Boyd ran his “Old Time Radio Hour” every Sunday night from the studio in his home. His niece, 10-year-old Rosalie Pinker, who was intrigued by the guests on his show, always tried to sneak on the set.
This Sunday night was no different. Before she could whisk her way into the studio, the door slammed shut.
“Mom! Why have I never been allowed to visit Uncle Frank’s studio?” Rosalie said, plopping herself on the couch.
She propped her feet up on the sofa, turned on the living room radio, and positioned a pillow behind her head.
“Tonight, on the ‘Old Time Radio Hour,’ I have special guests from Broadway and the Grand Ole Opry,” Uncle Frank said, as he proceeded to interview the singing stars about their careers, personal lives, and upcoming music releases.
As Rosalie listened to the end of the show, she turned the radio off and ran next door back to Frank’s house. At the chance that she might meet one of the sensations leaving his home, she stood by the studio door.
It was convenient having Frank live and work next door to her mother’s home, and she tried to visit with him frequently.
“Uncle Frank, I want to meet the stars on your show tonight!” Rosalie said, knocking on the studio door.
“Rosalie, they’ve already left!” Uncle Frank said. “In fact, you just missed them get into their limos . . .”
“Oh, really?” Rosalie said, looking down the driveway, wondering why she didn’t see the limo as it drove away.
“Next week, I’m going to have a really great show!” Uncle Frank said. “I found a lion tamer who also tames dragons and many other wild beasts. He’s going to talk about all his great adventures! He said he would bring animals!”
“I’d love to be there for that interview!” Rosalie said. “I’d love to be a lion tamer when I grow up!”
“It’s much too dangerous for you to be near the animals, Rosalie,” Uncle Frank said. “Your mom would never let you!”
“Well, what about next week or the week after that?” Rosalie said. “Can’t I finally meet someone on your show?”
“No, you can’t meet the guests on my show!” Uncle Frank said. “This is business, and it’s none of your business.”
“Well, it’s the family business, and maybe I should learn about it, so I can run it when I get older,” Rosalie said.
“I’d have to charge you by the hour to learn from me, Rosalie,” Uncle Frank said. “And you can’t afford that! Just keep getting good grades in school, and everything will be fine. Besides, I’m not sure you’re good enough to be on the radio.”
“Good enough?” Rosalie said, with a tear in her eye. “You’re full of yourself, Uncle Frank! Just because people listen to you talk on the radio, and you think all the neighbors know that you have famous guests, you are no better than I am!”
As Rosalie ran into her mother’s kitchen through the side door, her mother hugged Rosalie tight. Although Uncle Frank was sure the neighbors listened to his show, Rosalie never met a single neighbor who tuned into the Sunday night hour.
“Rosalie, not everything is always as it seems,” Mrs. Pinker said. “Uncle Frank is just having a hard time telling the truth. Don’t take it personally. He just has to do things his own way. We can do things our way. It’s okay. Don’t worry.”
But Rosalie did worry. She worried about why nothing ever seemed to make sense, and she couldn’t fill in the blanks.
Mother had been saying things like this to Rosalie ever since her father died when she was age 3. She made excuses for Uncle Frank, but she tried to make the best of it. Uncle Frank was the closest thing that she had to an actual father.
“What does that mean? He’s not telling the truth about what?” Rosalie said to her mom. “I want to know the truth . . .”
“Well, sometimes you just have to leave well enough alone until the truth can come out,” Mrs. Pinker said. “I’ve been his sister for my whole life, and he always liked to make up stories in his mind. At least he puts them on the radio now.”
“Why can’t I see what is on the other side of that studio door?” Rosalie said. “This is really silly! I don’t understand.”
For the next few weeks, Rosalie was so angry at Uncle Frank that she unplugged the radio and refused to listen to one word of Uncle Frank’s “Old Time Radio Hour.” In fact, she stuck her fingers in her ears anytime she heard his voice.
Instead, Rosalie started to read. She loved a particular classic called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” Rosalie read, as she unraveled the deception of a less-than-powerful wizard. In the story, a girl named Dorothy and her dog Toto got lost in a storm and followed the Yellow Brick Road.
Then, after months passed, Rosalie finished reading all fourteen full-length Oz books by the famous author. She sat up straight in bed one morning, determined that she would get to the bottom of Uncle’s Frank “business.”
“Uncle Frank is no different than that silly Wizard of Oz, who hid behind the curtain and made funny voices,” she said.
After having toast with butter and jam for breakfast, Rosalie determined a plan to outsmart Uncle Frank.
“I’m buying a dog at the puppy shop just like Dorothy’s dog Toto in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and I’m naming him Scarecrow after Dorothy’s friend, and I’m going to train him to stick his tail in the studio door, so that when Uncle Frank tries to lock me out, I can slip in after he starts recording,” Rosalie whispered to herself, finishing her orange juice.
“I need to find out what is really going on,” she said, wiping the crumbs from the table with a few falling to the floor.
After coming back from the puppy shop with her new dog Scarecrow, Rosalie spent days training him to stick his tail in her bedroom door. Every time he successfully stopped the door from closing with his tail, he got a tasty dog treat.
“I think you’re ready for Sunday night!” Rosalie told Scarecrow, rubbing the back of his neck and his tummy.
As Rosalie walked down into her mother’s kitchen, Uncle Frank ate strawberry shortcake from a bowl.
“Rosalie, I’ve secured the famous author L. Frank Baum for my radio show this Sunday!” Uncle Frank said.
“Oh, now, your uncle just gets carried way sometimes,” Mrs. Pinker said. “He knows how much you’ve liked reading those books about the Land of Oz. You haven’t even turned on the radio for months, and he’s nervous . . .”
“Fantastic!” Rosalie said. “Of course, I will have to meet my favorite author. So, I will be over in the studio at least a half-an-hour before your start the show, so he can autograph my books. I will bring Scarecrow to meet him, too.”
“Please don’t bring the dog,” Uncle Frank said. “He’s probably afraid of dogs, and then he won’t want to talk to you.”
“I don’t know about that,” Rosalie said. “Mr. Baum gave Dorothy a wonderful dog named Toto, and she loved him!”
“Well, I’ll ask him, and we’ll let Mr. Baum decide,” Uncle Frank said. “I can only do what he wants . . .”
When Sunday night arrived, Uncle Frank popped his head out of the studio door as Rosalie held Scarecrow in her arms.
“Mr. Baum said he is so sorry, but he just can’t possibly speak to you with a dog,” Uncle Frank said. “And since you have dog fur all over you, he just can’t speak to you right now either. But if you leave your books with me, he said he would be happy to sign all of them, and answer any of your questions on air. Do you have any questions?”
“I’d like to know how he came up with the story for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?” Rosalie said, handing him a stack of Mr. Baum’s books. Then, she peered through the crack in the studio door, looking at an empty guest chair. Maybe Mr. Baum went to the bathroom, or he got a quick cup of coffee, Rosalie thought to herself, wondering where he went.
“Now go back over to your mother’s house and listen to my show from the living room radio,” Uncle Frank said.
As he turned to shut the studio door, Rosalie dropped Scarecrow onto the ground, and he ran to stick his tail in the door. Rosalie put her finger in front of her mouth, motioning to Scarecrow not to bark. Then, she put her foot in the door. After a minute or so, she slowly opened the studio door and slipped through with Scarecrow in her arms.
She stood in the dark corner, watching Uncle Frank turn on his equipment for the show. Still, L. Frank Baum was nowhere to be found. Rosalie wondered if he was in the bathroom or if he had to take a phone call in the other room.
“Where’s Mr. Baum?” Rosalie whispered to Scarecrow as the introduction music for the “Old Time Radio Hour” started.
As the music progressed, Uncle Frank got out his list of questions to ask the missing-in-action author.
“So pleased to have you here with us today, Mr. Baum,” Uncle Frank said, talking to an empty chair.
Then, Uncle Frank made another voice, slightly lower and rougher. “Thank you very much for having me, sir.”
“Now, the first question that I have to ask you is from my niece Rosalie, who is listening from her mother’s living room. She wants to know how you came up with the idea for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Can you tell us please?” Uncle Frank said in his normal voice, shuffling a few papers before he changed to his lower and rougher voice.
“Uncle Frank! You’ve been making up everything on your radio show!” Rosalie said, walking from the shadows in the corner. “None of this is true. You’ve been lying to everyone! And I believed you . . . but why? Oh, why?”
“I thought I was making you happy, Rosalie,” Uncle Frank cried. “It’s your fault for believing me. I was telling you what you wanted to hear. You’re just so naïve. Your mother tried to tell you, but you just wouldn’t listen to her.”
Rosalie ran out of the studio with Scarecrow and slammed the door shut. Uncle Frank’s whole house shook. Her mother stood at the kitchen door with tears in her eyes, wishing that Rosalie’s father had never died.
As Rosalie got older, she studied broadcasting and had her own national radio show every Sunday night.
“People will just believe anything, won’t they?” Rosalie said on-air. “I never pay any attention to the man behind the curtain! He’s probably hiding something! Don’t worry! You can come visit me anytime and meet my dog Scarecrow.”
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters