Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf

By Gene Wilburn

For those who grew up with television, it’s hard to fathom the grip that radio once had on the imagination. In the small blue-collar town of Rock Falls, Illinois, in 1951, I was six years old and radio captivated me; I listened each week to episodes of The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Red Ryder, and, my favorite, The Adventures of Superman.

Our radio was a floor-standing Zenith in a deep-brown wood cabinet. Behind its wheat-colored grill was a twelve-inch speaker that filled the living room with the deep, sonorous voice of authority. The Zenith logo was formed with an oversized Z made of lightning bolts that trailed under the enith with a flourish. It looked modern, futuristic. I imagined the round tuning dial with its little lamp that shone on the station markings as a cockpit instrument. Sometimes, when I was alone in the house, I would spin it around and listen to the stations click by. I never imagined that this wonderful instrument would lead to trouble.

Like much trouble, its beginnings were innocent. My mom and step-dad wanted to go out to dinner or a movie or something and asked if I was okay being on my own. I didn’t mind and they promised to be back as soon as possible. It was common to leave responsible youngsters on their own back then. They headed out in their gray 1951 Ford sedan, under an overcast, wintry sky that smelled of snow and I settled in for an evening of comic books and radio shows.

As it grew dark outside, I switched on the radio for the special children’s hour programming and was delighted to hear it was going to be a presentation of “Peter and the Wolf,” music by Prokofiev, narration by Boris Karloff. I owned the Disney book of Peter and the Wolf and knew the story well, though I always found it a little scary.

The show opened with Karloff’s rich, cultured voice introducing the instruments that represented the characters in the story: the bird, the duck, Peter, his grandfather, and the wolf. When the three horns representing the wolf played, the hair rose on the back of my neck and I began to feel uneasy.

As the story progressed, the music began to spook me. Never had “Peter and the Wolf” been this scary. I got up and closed all the doors leading into the living room. I couldn’t abide the darkness on the other side. Even that was not enough. My nerves were on edge. I closed all the drapes on the windows and, as an added measure, locked the front and side doors, something we rarely did back in the early 50s. Finally it got too tense for me and I switched off the radio and turned on all the lights and snuggled under the cover on the couch where I listened to the snow hitting the side of the house until I fell asleep.

The weather had turned into a nasty snowstorm with blizzardy winds. My mom and step-dad tried to drive home in it but could only get within two blocks of the house because the snow plow hadn’t yet been through. The drifts were three or four feet high and they abandoned the car on the side of the road and trudged their way through the wind and drifts to get to the house.

When they got there, the house was locked and they had no key. This too was typical of the 50s. Houses only got locked when the last person went to bed. Looking in the window through a crack in the drapes they could see me sleeping on the couch. They pounded on the door and the window and shouted at me, but it didn’t wake me. Getting colder and more desperate to get inside, my step-dad finally broke a window and entered that way, opening the door for my mom. That didn’t wake me either. My fright over “Peter and the Wolf” had carried me to a deep, safe place in my slumber.

When they shook me awake I was at first glad to see them, but was confused by the scowls on their faces. My step-dad was so livid with anger he could scarcely talk. I think he might have wanted to shake some sense into my head, but mom intervened more gently, though she was angry as well. I was scolded sternly about locking them out on the night of a blizzard.

I felt embarrassed and sorry that I had let them down, but I also felt a rebellious sense of injustice. All I did was keep out the wolves, and I knew that, if it came to it again, I’d do the same thing. My fear of wolves was stronger than my fear of being scolded and chastised.

They later told the story as a joke to their friends, always featuring me as the butt of the joke, but I noticed that, from that time onward, they carried a house key.



About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
This entry was posted in Creative Nonfiction, Memoir. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Peter and the Wolf

  1. Dave B says:

    Very nice short short, Gene. Bravo! -Dave

  2. Pingback: Peter and the WolfSmall Print Magazine | ISSN 2328-9449 (print), ISSN 2328-9457 (online) | Small Print Magazine | ISSN 2328-9449 (print), ISSN 2328-9457 (online)

  3. Ron Herron says:

    Gene –
    I just came across this post…and I love it! I also remember a time when no one locked their doors until the last person went to bed…and I remember listening to a similar piece of furniture we called a ‘radio’ – long before they became small enought to hold in your hand.

    I also remember the day my father moved it out of the living room. I was really upset to see it go, but soon became delighted at the NEW piece of furniture that replaced it…our black & white Muntz TV. The screen was only about 10″ across, but oh what fun it was!

    Sound AND moving pictures! What would they think of next?

  4. Gene Wilburn says:

    Thanks Ron. I’ve been working on some memoirs like this.

    It looks like you’ve become a working novelist. Well done! Instead of TV I may see you interviewed on my iPhone :-)

  5. Earl says:

    Well, I had friends in Rock Falls, and I remember being mesmerized by our LP version of Peter and the Wolf. As I age, I am being drawn back to the simple pleasure of great recorded music. Over the next year or two I will be upgrading my audio system to the highest level I can afford. My goal is to be able to immerse myself in the heritage of great music, played back in the highest reproduction standard I can achieve. Music is to our soul/spirit the simple yet most profounc language of the universe.

    • gene says:

      I agree. Music is wonderful and has an amazing heritage. Classical, Medieval, Baroque, Jazz, Blues, Folk, Rock — every category is filled with classics.

  6. Earl says:


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