Recurring characters introduced:
- Richard Nichols, Steve and Annie’s second child, although his name is never given
- Georgia, Uncle Phil’s new girlfriend and a jazz flute player
Incidental characters mentioned:
- Rudy, the bartender at the resort in Barbados (shave off the moustache from Love Boat’s Isaac and you’ll know what Rudy looks like)
- Mr Mayes (presumably) seen on page 23 sitting next to the Pattersons and shouting at “Gordie” at a junior hockey match, calling him stupid and a dummy
- Mr Morberg, dental patient
- Harry, manager of the department store from which Mike shoplifts a scarf
- Klotz Automobiles, sponsors of Mike’s junior hockey team
- the Valley Voice staff: Mrs Walsh, editor; Les, photographs and layouts; Karen, reporter, sales rep and bookkeeper; Jess, ads and circulation; and the unnamed typing pool
- “Coach”, Mike’s unnamed hockey coach
- “Teacher”, Mike’s unnamed teacher
- Marge, an unseen friend of Elly’s who advises her to ask for a salary from the Valley Voice
Minor biographical details:
- Carrie Patterson says that she is 28 years older than John
- John says that he has ten years of university and three degrees
- Phil has spent the past few months parasailing in the Bahamas for a month, then touring around with a jazz group with some musicians from Colorado, finding himself in Vancouver when word came of a teaching opportunity in what would later become Milborough
- Georgia is 7 years younger than Phil
Now well into the rhythm of longer story arcs, there are nevertheless a handful of one-off strips, but not yet ending on bad puns or sticky-out tongue laughs. No one celebrates a birthday during this collection and it isn’t clarified which school grade Mike is in, so this might be the time where the kids’ ages are frozen. Elizabeth is speaking more as she goes through what must be the terrible twos, complete with “cute” malapropisms, tantrums and lies. Mike is old enough to play hockey and begins to doubt the existence of the Easter Bunny. Sometime between Easter and Christmas Elly tells Michael the truth about Santa, to John’s dismay. The introduction is by Carolyn Davis, wife of Jim (Garfield) Davis. Hey – is Lynn friends with Jim Davis? No, seriously – is she or was she?
The stories focus entirely on the Pattersons, Connie and her love life and, in a very minor role, Annie and Steve. The collection begins with the first kid-free getaway: John and Elly are off to Barbados for two weeks while John’s parents babysit Mike and Lizzie. No sooner have the Pattersons checked into their resort than John ogles one of the female guests as Elly raves about the scenery. John’s idea of a vacation is to sit on the beach and read books, so Elly is left to her own devices and winds up shopping in Bridgetown, picking up a ghastly carving of two women picking coconuts. On their last day Elly asks John if there’s anything he’d like to take home with him and he snaps his head around to leer at a woman in a bikini, his eyes bulging out and his front teeth poking over his lips like Bugs Bunny.
Back in what will one day be called Milborough, John’s parents appear as generic grandparents: Grandma wears glasses, fusses over her son “Johnny” and implicitly criticizes her daughter-in-law by being a more successful parent and housekeeper, while Grandpa smokes a pipe and plays cards with Mike.
After Michael uses magnetic letters to spell “Mom is fat” on the fridge door, Elly obsesses over her size, complaining to Annie that she hasn’t a valid excuse for gaining weight. Annie offers up her latest excuse: she’s pregnant. Elly is surprised as Annie had said that she always wanted just the one child. Connie responds to the news saying that some people have a lot to look forward to and others don’t, adding that she and Ted split up 45 minutes ago. When Elly tries to boost Connie’s spirits by telling her (accurately) that Ted was a “spoiled, narrow-minded, manipulative chauvinist pig”, Connie turns on Elly for saying such things about “the man I love”. Elly feels guilty about her inability to keep her mouth shut and mind her own business, then gossips to Annie about Connie’s love life.
When John and Ted go for drinks, John accuses Ted of letting Connie think he was going to marry her; Ted says it isn’t his fault that Connie has an imagination. John returns to work in a lousy mood and, during a dental procedure, manages to stuff two cotton rolls up the nose of one Mr Morberg, who is never heard from again (not surprisingly).
The whole family, save Elly who has to look after them, comes down with the flu right before Uncle Phil announces that he’s moving in until he finds an apartment now that he has a “teaching gig” at the university. When Elly says that Connie has already heard through the grapevine that her old flame will be back in town, John calls Elly the “chief grape”. Connie invites Phil for supper and he tells Elly all the plans they are making to keep Elly from “leaving ear prints on the wallpaper” as Elly is shown to be eavesdropping on the phone conversation.
A pipe-smoking (?!) Phil arrives at Connie’s with roses and a greeting of, “Ah, mon petit chou…you’re looking particularly muncheable ce soir!” Lawrence rolls his eyes and gives Phil the cold shoulder when Phil tries to bond with him. Over dinner Connie tells Phil that she’s on the rebound and won’t be chasing after him and Phil announces that he was planning to do a little chasing of his own. As soon as Ted hears via John that Connie is about to get seriously involved with Phil, Ted gets back in touch with Connie. Connie and Phil’s relationship continues, mostly off-panel, with Connie refusing to tell Elly what is happening – possibly because she doesn’t care to be the subject of Elly and Annie’s gossip, although this is never explicitly mentioned.
A jealous Ted keeps calling Connie and she’s delighted to be able to tell him to stop bothering her, but he manages to wear her down and she agrees to see him one weekend because she feels sorry for him. Phil, frustrated, asks Elly to tell Connie he’s not there when she phones, and a couple of weeks later finds an apartment to share with a drummer and a saxophone player. Connie returns to Ted and John teases Elly (again) about her need to gossip about her friend’s love life. Ted wants to move in and Phil rings Connie to tell her how dumb it was for her to go back to Ted and Connie retorts that it was none of Phil’s business.
Deanna shows up just once when Mrs Hardacre gives Michael and Deanna detention for talking in class. At the end of the school year Mrs Hardacre explains that she was hard on Mike only because she cared and wanted him to do his best, so he hugs her goodbye. After having Miss Campbell and Mrs Hardacre, Mike’s third grade teacher is left unnamed, referred to only as “Teacher”.
The Pattersons’ summer holiday is to take the train to Vancouver to see Elly’s parents, but Elly booked roomettes instead of bedrooms and the space is limited. John asks a steward to let Mike see the engineer; Mike tries to explain that he doesn’t want to see the engineer while John thought-bubbles, “I do”: John’s fixation with trains has begun. Grandma Marian and Grandpa Jim aren’t any more developed as characters than John’s parents had been.
Elly finishes her first-year English course and goes out to celebrate while John stays up, worrying about how late she is out. When the kids return to school in the autumn, Elly enrols Lizzie in “play care” so she can volunteer to do some proofreading and write a small column – “Library Corner” – for the local paper, preserving her sanity at the same time. Elizabeth is happy to go to the Little Star Day Care Centre until she realizes that Elly isn’t staying and panics; Elly manages to break free and start her new job, even though she feels guilty at the same time. When she returns to the day care after work, Lizzie (“Lizzy” in this strip) is too busy playing to respond to her. After the first day, Elizabeth begins to resist going to day care and refuses to speak to her mother once Elly returns, so Annie offers to take care of her instead.
Christopher stays with the Pattersons overnight when Annie goes into labour. Steve forgot to fill up the tank before they left and the car runs out of gas on the way to the hospital. They hitch-hike the rest of the way in a Porsche. Christopher asks if he can call his brother Luke Skywalker. (For some reason, Richard’s name isn’t stated at any point in this book.) Liz asks if her parents could have another baby and Elly stumbles over her response. Both John and Elly look gobsmacked when they hear Michael say that they can’t have another baby (revealing in the final panel that it was because they sold the crib), making me wonder if the joke in the previous collection about John taking “permanent precautions” was meant to imply that John would be having a vasectomy at some point, whether he wanted to or not.
Just after Hallowe’en (Mike was an airplane and Lizzie an angel), Phil comes over for dinner to introduce Georgia. They’d known each other for exactly 147 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds. Elly and John have another night-time discussion, this time about whether or not Georgia is right for Phil: Elly focuses on Georgia’s personality (bright, a little talkative, a musician) and John notices that she’s very pretty with good teeth and a great figure.
Encouraged by Lawrence, Mike shoplifts a $9 scarf for Elly’s Christmas present. He feels guilty for a week, blames Lawrence for making him do it and thinks that his teddy is “looking at him funny”. He is caught when he tries to return the scarf, but rewarded for his honesty, getting a paperweight full of new pennies from the store manager.
Elly and John throw a New Year’s Eve party and John plays bartender, drinks too much and collapses behind the bar after someone kisses him on the mouth and he drops his glasses. Elly is furious and refuses to speak to John, upsetting Michael in the process because he can’t understand what is going on. The fight ends after Elly storms outside to cool off, returning immediately, snow-covered and with icicles on the end of her nose.
Years before Calvin did anything along these lines, Mike sculpts naked snowmen after a trip to the art gallery.
When John goes to a medical convention, Elly suggests to the Valley Voice editor that she get paid for her work, but is told that she’s already being published, as if this were reward enough. Elly is upset with herself for her lack of nerve at being unable to stand up and demand a salary.
The collection ends with a series of one-off strips and the hint of a story that Phil is looking to move again, largely because his roommates are vegetarians and into healthy living.
John and Elly are the only people on the beach without suntans, causing someone to ask if they are new to the island. This is the first we see of this scenario, but not the last.
Elly wishes to be in pregnant Annie’s shoes and Annie offers them up as they haven’t fit for a week. The same joke is used when Elly is expecting April and, I think, when Deanna is expecting Merrie.
Elly listens to bad news on the radio, but this time it’s Liz rather than Mike making a quip at the end – Liz tells Elly it’s all just pretend.
Making the Pattersons look good
The steward on the train has a beaky nose and an overbite large enough to use as a bottle opener. To demonstrate that he’s not as well educated as the Pattersons, he says “yer” instead of “your”, e.g., “’Scuse me. I’ll jest git by here so’s you kin yell at yer wife in privit.”
Elly complains about Mike’s messy room. When he shouts, “What am I – some kind of servant?” he is spanked and believes that it’s because he stole one of Elly’s lines.
Elly hires a sitter for the day to take Annie shopping shortly before the baby is born, explaining that John doesn’t care how liberated she is, as long as she’s home by 6. After Elly starts work at the Valley Voice, John refers to it as her “job” (complete with quotes) and laughs at her need to prove herself; Jean warns him to be careful what he says about working women as she’s one of them. Elly doesn’t want to go to a dental convention because she feels degraded wearing a nametag identifying her as “Mrs Dr So-and-So”, but Annie knows the real reason is that Elly couldn’t find a sitter.