“J” is for “John, Jean, and Judy”

In the 1950s and 1960s, while public school kids were reading the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally (DJS), parochial school tyros were following John, Jean, and Judy (JJJ). I haven’t compared the two series personally, but apparently JJJ were living their counterparts’ lives. JJJ originated in the 1940s, when a crusading Rev. John A. O’Brien, Ph.D., tinkered with the DJS stories, keeping the original book titles and character names but adding or creating moral or religious themed stories more in line with Roman Catholic values. By the 1950s, for some reason (copyright issues, perhaps?) his characters were reborn as JJJ.

Rev. O’Brien’s career as a children’s book author was very much in line with his main passions, Catholic education and conversion. In fact, his contribution to the world of children’s literature is primarily a footnote in his life. Beginning with the 1938 publication of his best seller “The Faith of Millions,” he wrote 45 books and hundreds of pamphlets and articles espousing Catholicism. He taught the first accredited courses in religion while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, where he remained for 22 years. Thereafter, he spent the rest of his life teaching and writing at the University of Notre Dame, devoting hectic summers to conversion campaigns in 50 American dioceses and preaching throughout the South. The late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, former President of Notre Dame, said “perhaps no priest in the history of the Church in America was responsible for more Catholic converts.”

Of course, Rev. O’Brien’s proselytizing meant nothing to six-year-old me when I first encountered JJJ at St. Cecilia’s School. I came from a home with plenty of Catholic books and had learned to read our copy of the Little Golden Book Life of Jesus. While I was impressed that JJJ had a character named Judy, the JJJ reader wasn’t as impressive as the Nancy Drew library books I hid under my desk.

Choosing my own reading material was relatively easy, since upwards of 50 kids were packed into 1950s classrooms. Alphabetic seating meant I was usually in the middle or back of the room; out of sight of prying nuns’ eyes. Unfortunately, I blew it for myself because I basically talked/whispered non-stop to everyone around me. My alphabetic seat wasn’t enough to protect me from being moved to the front of the classroom under the nun’s nose. Never later than Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, I still remember my Nancy Drew stories but not JJJ.

Written for the A to Z Challenge and for these prompts: #YDWordPrompt tyro; The Daily Spurs’ rebirth; Word of the Day Challenge hectic; and Fandango’s #FOWC never. Research materials include The University of Notre Dame’s archives, Find A Grave memorial; Library Things’ Cathedral Basic Readers series description, and, of course, Wikipedia

The Dream

Walking past the display case, she stopped short. That was his leather jacket behind the glass. The one he wore in her favorite videos and on two of his album covers.  She remembered he wore that jacket on stage the night they almost met.  She hadn’t thought about it for many years. Could it really have been 30—no, 35—years ago? Peg had scored front row seats for the four inseparable girls celebrating their high school graduation. They were so giddy and boisterous that night, dancing and singing along. Towering above them on stage, he laughed along with them, encouraging them, singing directly to them most of the time. He couldn’t take his eyes off them, off her. He may have sung the really rocking songs to the four of them, but the ballads he sang only to her. Her friends even noticed it and teased her about it as they ran for the train after the concert.

Just as she reached out to press her hand against the glass, her reverie was interrupted by an insistent female voice asking, “Are you Julianna? You are Julianna. Definitely. I’d know your face anywhere.”

“Have we met?”

“No, but he told me all about you. OK. You’re probably thinking I’m a crazy person, and what I have to say is sort of crazy, but I have proof. Listen, can we go sit down over there? Maybe grab some coffee? I really think you’re going to want to sit down for this.”

Curious, Julianna agreed.  Waiting for the coffee, the strange woman rummaged around in her oversize tote and began talking.

“I’m Kathy, by the way. I met Bobby a little over a year before he died. What a man! He wasn’t really famous any more, and he wasn’t the young rock god he used to be, but put him on a stage, in that leather jacket, black leather pants, black boots ….. There were five other guys in his band, who were also fading rockers, but he was the one you couldn’t take your eyes off. When one of the other guys was singing or showing off with a theatrical guitar solo, he would back out of the spotlight and just stand there, tapping his foot, playing his guitar. Even then, he was the one you watched. Well, we got engaged fairly quickly, but I knew he was never going to marry me, especially after I found these.” Triumphantly producing two large manilla envelopes and a small box from the maw of her bag, she pushed one of the envelopes across the table to Julianna. “Go ahead; open it.”

Julianna’s jaw dropped as she looked at all the drawings. “This is me. These are all me! But…but…how…?”

“Clearly, you made an impression on him.”

“But, I never met him. My friends and I went to a concert for our high school graduation, and I felt like he was singing only to me, but we never met. I never even went to another concert. Never even saw him in person again. And these pictures….. They’re not just me as the 17-year-old senior I was at the concert. They’re me with my brothers when we were 5, 6, 7 years old; another one when the two youngest were 3 and 6, and we older ones were teenagers. There’s me at my first wedding; me with my second husband; me graduating from college. I was 37 for god’s sake! Here’s another, twenty years later at my husband’s funeral. Bobby died 15 years before my husband! This is insane! How could he possibly have drawn these?!”

“I told you it’s crazy. When I found these pictures, naturally I thought they were drawings of a family member’s life. Bobby could have just let me think that, but, remember, this was a year or less before he died. He knew he was terminally ill. And he wanted me to know about the pictures, and the songs and letters in the other envelope so I could tell you.”

“Songs and letters?”

“Yes. Starting when he was a teenager, he wrote songs for and about you. Throughout his lifetime, he wrote around 20 of them. I don’t think he ever recorded any. Well, not for commercial release, anyway. That other envelope has all the songs, both written lyrics and tapes, some with the whole song; others, only the music. He wrote letters to you at least once a year, either on his birthday or yours. Don’t worry; I haven’t read any of them. It just about killed me not to, but I promised him I wouldn’t. At some point, when he was in his 30s, I think, he started drawing the pictures.”

“And he wanted you to tell me all this?”

“He was sure that someday you and I would meet, and he wanted you to know that he searched for you his whole life. The way he explained it was, you and he have been meeting in different lifetimes for hundreds of years. In every lifetime you were sometimes best friends, but mostly you were married or, at least, lovers. I have to admit, even though I promised him I’d try to find you and tell you, I thought he was nuts. That it was the chemo or the cancer itself that addled his brain. He also wanted you to have this.”

Julianna opened the little box. Nestled inside was a small gold ring. Engraved around the band was “Bobby  Julianna = magic “.  It fit perfectly on the third finger of her left hand. With tears streaming down her face, she said

“Julianna!!! For Pete’s sake, wake up! You’re going to be late for school! And shut off the damn alarm!”

Stretching, her dream fading, Julianna thought maybe she and her friends shouldn’t have indulged before going to the concert last night. She reached for the alarm clock, knocking somthing off the night stand. Bending to pick it up, she discovered it was a small gold ring. But whose? She only has silver jewelry. Inspecting the ring, she found engraving “Bobby  Julianna = magic “.


1005 words. Written in response to Fandango’s One Word Challenge prompt “dreamer“.