The Other Shoe Drops: Robert Arthur’s “Obstinate Uncle Otis”

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Who hasn’t lived life like that sometimes? In the circumstances in which I grew up, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” was just part of life. From my earliest memories, it seemed, I was always waiting for things to end badly–for that proverbial shoe to land, so to speak, in a very bad spot.

For that reason, there was a story I read when I was very young (probably ten or so, perhaps younger) called “Obstinate Uncle Otis,” which I never forgot (I’m doing this spoiler-free, because I’d like you to go read the story, so I’m not telling you why).

That said, I remembered how the story concluded (almost to the line, it turns out later), but it made such a strong impression on me I remembered the title. I didn’t remember who wrote it or the plot, but for me, having a title is the most important thing, since ninety-five percent of the time I can only recall one of my own mental images that went with what I was reading or what really impressed me and that’s about it.

Over the years, I had cited this story many times and how it ended to friends, mostly when we’d be sitting around talking about learning how to defeat anxiety, and I always wished I had a copy of it. Searching in old anthologies or textbooks from the era was a dead end: I hadn’t read it in an anthology—the story was part of a reading-box system, in my opinion a very effective way of teaching reading to a large group of students, because each could advance at his own pace and therefore benefit no matter what level at which he’d entered the class.

Basically, each classroom was issued several file boxes. Each box was colored and represented a reading level; for example, the orange box was Level 1, the yellow was Level 2, et cetera. Here’s a current photo of what one of these systems looks like today; I found it on a UK website, so apparently, this system is still being used someplace, although it looks like they just do one box now for the whole system:

ReadingBoxSystem

Each box contained cards the size of manila folders. Each card had a short fiction piece accompanied by comprehension and vocabulary questions. Each student progressed through the boxes at his own pace (during “reading time” each day—we weren’t allowed to take the cards home), and when he’d successfully completed one box, he moved up to the next level.

The system we were using had many levels, I want to say eight or ten, possibly more. All I remember is that once you got up into the dark colors—navy, olive, plum, brown—you were advanced. “Obstinate Uncle Otis” I believe was on a navy card (but you know what they say about persistence of memory, it’s just that’s the color I’ve associated it with over the years). And if anyone’s assuming I was a brain and made it all the way to the last color, I didn’t. I fell three short, as I recall.

For a long time, therefore, my search for “Obstinate Uncle Otis” focused on trying to find the system we’d used. To no avail. Eventually, I gave up and just started searching for the story itself online, again, to no avail. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you’re looking for something specific on the Internet and can’t find it, wait awhile and try again. So every couple of years I’d Google “Obstinate Uncle Otis” and keep my fingers crossed.

This past January, I found it.

“Obstinate Uncle Otis,” by Robert Arthur, was published in Argosy’s July 19, 1941 issue. Someone had, in between my search periods, PDF’d all the old Argosys and archived them online. Imagine how thrilled I was to see this:

ObstinateUncleOtisArgosyTitleShot

So, I think it’s safe to say the other shoe has dropped–for once, in position I like. I give you “Obstinate Uncle Otis.” Just click the link and go to Page 33. Enjoy!

http://www.unz.org/Pub/ArgosyWeekly-1941jul19?View=PDF

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About Kristi Petersen Schoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is editor for Read Short Fiction, and hosts the Scary Scribes podcast for Paranormal, Eh? Radio Network in Canada. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on July 11, 2012, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. We had that same reading system! As I recall, it start with bright colors, then darker ones, then the very top ones were metallic.

  2. I too have been searching for the story for years – I’m thrilled to find it here! Thank you for passing the link along to those of us who share the same fond memories.

    • Excellent, Lori! It’s nice to meet a fellow fan of this piece. I swear, eventually, I’m going to find every lost favorite story of mine. I think I have almost found them all, but I’m sure another will turn up eventually.

  3. OMG! Me too! The colored reading cards. I LOVED THOSE!
    I loved that story too but I remember it from an “Alfred HItchcock Presents” collection.

    • Alfred HItchcock’s Ghostly Gallery: Eleven Spooky STories for Young People (Random House 1962). Thanks Google Books.

  4. I thought I was the only one who remembered this story! Thanks for posting about it!
    Just so you know, the reading system you were talking about is called SRA (I forget what it stands for) and it’s published by McGraw Hill.

    • Great, Scott! I’m so glad I helped (even if inadvertently). Maybe it’ll be out there enough now that a whole new generation can get exposed to it. Still one of my favorite stories of all time!

      Ahhh…SRA. Yup. That’s it. The second you said that I remembered it. Thank YOU so much for sharing that. Now maybe I can do some more effective Google searches. I think it’d be a kick in the pants if I could find an old one. That would be a true treasure to own.

      Thanks again!

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