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By Staff | Sep 18, 2009

So there you are, going along on a quiet country road that you have driven down about a million times. Your mind is drifting and you’re sort of taking your half out of the


You crest a hill and suddenly there’s another car coming directly at you. And you’re closing in on each other at a rate of speed normally associated with jet fighters!

You both swerve, missing one another by the width of an atom. Your life didn’t flash before your eyes, but you’ll definitely need to do some explaining to the laundry lady.

Once the cold sweat has dried and you can pry your fear-stiffened fingers off the steering wheel, you begin to think.

Specifically, you think about the big “What If?”

You imagine the funeral service, conducted by that new minister, a man whom you barely know. The core message of his eulogy is: “He was sort of an OK guy. I guess.”

Your wife collects the life insurance, sells the house and purchases an elegant hilltop villa in Tuscany. It isn’t long before some sweaty, garlic-breathing slickster named

Dimitri has moved in with her. She doesn’t think of you very often, but when she does, she can only recall your infrequent

moodiness and the word “badger” pops into her head.

And that’s that. You can now see that you’ll leave behind about the same impression on this world as a hand does when it’s withdrawn from a 5-gallon bucket of water.

We’ve all mentally run through this scenario or something like it. At the end of mine, I think, “Well, at least I read to my kids at bedtime.”

I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but our boys were still quite young when it somehow became a ritual for me to read them bedtime stories.

On Sunday nights their story would come from the pages of the Sunday funnies. The boys had bunk beds at the time, so one would sit beside me and follow along while the other would lay on his tummy and look down from the top bunk.

“Calvin and Hobbes” was our hands-down favorite with “The Far Side” coming in a close second.

On other nights I would read from a book. We went through a “Little House” phase but soon graduated to Patrick McManus.

McManus is an outdoors writer and a world-class wag. His books of collected essays have such titles as “Never Sniff A Gift Fish” and “Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!”

McManus often plumbed the depths of his austere rural Idaho childhood for material. For instance, one of his stories described how he and his pal Crazy Eddie decided to construct a tiger trap out in back of Eddie’s house.

The boys only managed to catch a skunk, followed swiftly by Eddie’s high-strung father. From then on, Eddie’s dad smelled vaguely of skunk. He also had a severe and unexplainable facial tic.

Our sons loved these stories, which gratified me greatly. It also gratified me that they didn’t try to emulate any of the epic exploits McManus so vividly described.

One night after reading them their story, the boys remained restless. They demanded another story, but the bookshelf was bare.

Totally on a whim, I grabbed a short and squat toy monkey that had big, doleful eyes and comically long arms.

“One day Monkey was walking along and…” I began.

And what? I had no clue. “And he found a case of dynamite,” I continued impulsively.

Monkey had several dynamite-related mishaps that evening. First, he mistook the sticks for cigars and tried to smoke one. After a thunderous explosion tossed him to the ceiling, Monkey theorized that maybe he had found a cache of hot dogs. He fired up his grill and you can imagine what happened next.

Our sons laughed themselves silly.

Monkey began to have calamitous misadventures almost every bedtime. His misfortunes quickly became more diverse as the boys began to make suggestions.

So it was that Monkey suffered the consequences of such things as overeating just prior to going on extreme amusement park rides and the unpleasant effects of trying to lift a heavy rock shortly after consuming a large quantity of powerful laxatives.

My wife would hear the boys giggling uncontrollably and often came to their bedroom to admonish, “You’re supposed to be calming them down, not firing them up!”

She was right, of course. Even so, I couldn’t ever say no whenever bedtime came and those little voices pleaded, “Do Monkey for us! Please? Pretty please?”

That isn’t much of a legacy and it certainly isn’t chiseled in stone anywhere. But I guess it will have to do.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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