Telling J.P. a bedtime story was so very often the highlight of my day. Bedtime routines with little ones are always special. Always memorable, especially when viewed through the prism of raising a child that's hit double digits in age. Even more so when you traffic in nostalgia and sentimentality, as I do. Ah, yes, the good old days.
Johnny Pasta begat Johnny Bag of Donuts and he stayed with us for at least a couple of years.
Every night, at bedtime, J.P. would hop into bed without a fuss eagerly anticipating a new story or the continuation of a story from the night before - Vol. II or, sometimes, III, IV or V. I had a whole intro I would do first, then I would recap the previous night's story. This was key when it was a multi-part story, continued the night before at the penultimate moment. In my recap, if I missed a key fact, J.P. quickly corrected me.
God, it seems like yesterday - literally - that I was laying on the floor in the dark on the rug, next to his bed, with a pillow under my head, letting my imagination run wild as I spun a yarn about Johnny Bag of Donuts' latest adventures. He would get so excited during the story that he would sit up in bed, enraptured by the tale and worried about what might happen next.
I always wove him into the story, along with various and sundry characters from our every day, neighborhood lives. The setting, often and particularly as he got older, was a sports event - an NBA game in Memphis, bobsledding at the Olympics, Vanderbilt football, Titans' football, etc. Sports figures were ever present, some more than others. Kobe Bryant was a regular and, for some reason, Zach Randolph was, too.
The cast of characters at Bongo Java - in the old days, of course - almost always played supporting roles in the stories. E.J., Megan, Adam, George, Chad, Chuck, Mitch, Hunter and so many, many more baristas, long since gone from our Bongo Java - that's another story - all whom had showed J.P. so many kindnesses in the early years of his life and were rewarded with recurring roles in the adventures of Johnny Bag of Donuts.
The best and most special part, for me, was that those few minutes at bedtime were something J.P. and I shared together. Just the two of us. Father, son and our imaginations running wild. Just. Being. Together.
When Joe came along, of course, bedtime routines were different. It was virtually impossible to focus on Joe alone, because J.P. had to be put to bed, too. Then, again, maybe I had other things weighing on my mind. Real life things. Maybe I didn't use my imagination enough or spend enough time thinking up stories to entertain Joe at bedtime. It made me a little sad, when I thought about it. Either way, I tried a few times off and on with Joe, but telling him stories at bedtime never really caught on with him.
Until recently, when Johnny Bag of Donuts enjoyed a renaissance after her appeared in our home, again, this time accompanied by his sidekick, Joey Mustache.
By way of explanation, Joey Mustache was the character I'd created a few years ago to serve as Joe's alter ego in my stories. A 3 or 4 year old boy with a long, brown Fu Manchu mustache that was the envy of everyone he came into contact with. It didn't catch on with Joe, then, but by damn, it has now.
A few weeks ago, around the time of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Joe was having trouble sleeping through the night. He'd wake up at midnight or 1 p.m., crying and upset, because he couldn't fall back to sleep. Jude and I took turns going upstairs to check on him but it made for a few nights of fitful sleep for us.
One night, to change things up at bedtime, I told him a Joey Mustache story in which Joey and Johnny Bag of Donuts - brothers, of course - were selected to play for the National League in the MLB All-Star Game. It was a multi-part story, Joe slept through that night and the next several nights and I'll be damned but Johnny Bag of Donuts - and Joey Mustache - were back in town and staying at our Linden Avenue house for a while!
Now, each night, Joe rushed to get in bed by 8:15 p.m. and asks me to tuck him in first, so he can hear about the latest adventures of Joey Mustache and Johnny Bag of Donuts. Currently, our heroes are playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the world champion Houston Astros, in Chavez Ravine. It's the top of the 7th inning and the Dodgers are up 3-0. Lance McCullers - he of the wicked curve ball - has replaced Justin Verlander and is pithing for the Astros.
Much to Joe's surprise and delight, the Bentonian (a.k.a. Benton right, J.P.'s friend) has replaced Clayton Kershaw and is pitching for the Dodgers. Joe sat up in bed and squealed last night when the Bentonian struck out Jose Altuve with a 104 mph pitch.
And I smiled, content, as I watched him from my spot at the foot of his bed.
I wish this baseball game would last forever. I wish these times would last forever. I wish my boys would (and I) would stay young forever.
Welcome home, Johnny Bag of Donuts and Joey Mustache. I've missed you. Why don't you stay with us for a while?
In fact, how about if you never leave?