Before there were gnomes, there was a troll. Not just any troll, but a rare species of troll known as a Schnook.
He was wearing a bright yellow jacket when I first laid eyes on him in a shop in Cloudcroft, N.M. I was just a boy, but the little Schnook insisted on coming with me, and he’s been with me ever since. We bear the scars from the passage of 47 years.
He had a name, surely, but it was in Schnookese, a troll language not easily understood by humans. One day, my father gave him a new name, and it stuck.
During long family vacations, my sister and I would get bored, so it became our sworn duty to aggravate our father as much as possible. It wasn’t difficult. One thing we’d do was surreptitiously place the troll in a position where he was looking directly at Daddy while he drove. I’m sure Daddy played along to some degree, but I’m also sure that it sometimes bothered him, because once when he felt the schnook’s baleful, yellow-eyed stare he sputtered, “Get that ugly mutt out of here!” And that’s how Mutt got his new name.
Mutt traveled with my family all over the American West. I’ve written about some of those trips before, and we’d take pictures with him at many famous sites. Unfortunately, I can’t find most of those photos, but I did manage a blurry frame grab from an old 8mm movie, at right. That’s Mutt, sitting on an electrical hookup box at a KOA camp in the early 1970s. What you can’t see is that he’s staring at my father, who’s seated with my mom a few feet away. “Get that ugly mutt out of here!”
When he wasn’t traveling, Mutt became a high school football mascot. My older sister was a member of the drill team, and my family would attend all the games for the Highlands Owls of San Antonio. It was Texas, after all, and high school football is kind of a thang! My mother even made a little maroon jacket for Mutt to match the school colors, and she emblazoned it with a glittery H on the back. She’d sit in the stands during the games and rub Mutt’s shock of white hair for good luck. What hair that hasn’t fallen out is now yellowish from the oil in her fingers — and mine — and he still proudly wears his letter jacket, which is in remarkably good shape.
Mutt doesn’t attend football games anymore, but he still travels, just as he did after I introduced him to my children. He’d come with us on family vacations as we retraced the trips I took as a child to scenic wonders all over this country. We have the photos to prove it.
Some would say that Mutt is just a stupid plastic toy, probably made in Taiwan, and there were probably thousands just like him. Sadly, they’re missing the point.
During a recent trip, Mutt again hit the road with me, and this time he met my two sons-in-law and five of my six grandchildren. He’ll fly with me to the west coast next month when I visit my son, daughter-in-law and my youngest granddaughter.
You see, Mutt isn’t just a traveler and a football mascot, he is a magical link among generations. One day I’ll have to decide which of my three children will inherit his services. Who will travel with him, care for him, take pictures with him, be sentimental about him, and explain his importance to generations of children I may never even meet?
Mutt has come a long way from the mountains of New Mexico, and who knows where he’ll travel next. Never doubt it, he’s a green-skinned, white-haired, yellow-eyed family heirloom. Oh, the stories he’ll tell to my progeny, who I feel sure will one day evolve to the point that they’ll even understand Schnookese!