The Ulterior Motives of Bedtime StoriesLawrence Vaughan
Sometimes we dads tell a bedtime story to perk up special times of year, like Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. More often, we read to our children at their request. Kids love hearing our stories — and they particularly love having our full attention. It’s nice for us too — we get to enjoy having our kids’ rapt attention while they’re still, quiet, dreamy and lost in a world of imagination that we’re inhabiting together.
But occasionally, we dads have ulterior motives. Sometimes we swing into the bedtime story saddle in order to get the job done: knock em unconscious so we can go about the rest of our evening!
In the days when Rocky and Bullwinkle’s metal-munching mice were just beginning to eat the TV aerials off the rooftops of American families — I mean the early 1960s — my own father’s motivation was definitely the latter. He was up to something.
When I was very young my daddy would tell me stories intended to knock me dead asleep — of course I didn’t realize this at the time — I simply loved getting lost in his telling of them. He called them “Geeragos and Mardiros” stories.
“Geeragos” and “Mardiros” are pronounced like this: GEAR-ah-ghos[t] (like the word “ghost” sans “t”) and MARDY-ros (sounding like the American name “Marty” and ros, rhyming with ghost-sans-t.) In other words, the two brothers’ names rhyme. The most effective of these stories went like this:
The two mythic Armenian boys lived “in town,” [meaning Fresno,] at the time a small collocation of wood clapboard houses very near two bakeries.
Somehow, Geeragos and Mardiros would secure fishing poles on a fine summer’s morn, start walking out in the country to fish at the San Joaquin River, and wind up catching a ride with a friendly farmer whose horse-drawn wagon barely went any faster than the boys had been walking. Thus, the wagon ride contributed the mere illusion of faster travel–kinda like LA freeways nowadays.
Anyway, the brothers G and M would get out there to the River, dig up nice fat worms in the muddy banks, catch a bunch of trout, clean them with their lousy broken kitchen knives (they could never possibly have afforded Scout knives), broil them right on the coals (free food from Nature=rollback of the Great Depression), eat the trout thus burning their fingertips and tongues.
Then would come the fateful moment.
“Geeragos,” said Mardiros, “it’s getting late. Look at the sun going down.”
“Mardiros, I’m scared,” replied Geeragos.
“We gotta start walking home, little brother,” said Mardiros.
“O.K.,” agreed Geeragos.
And the boys walked, and walked and walked. [Stevie’s and my eyes were by now either getting heavy-lidded or simply rolling up in our heads, can’t remember which].
Now it really was getting dark.
“Mardiros, I’m scared,” repeated Geeragos.
“O.K.” said Mardiros. “Let’s crawl under the grape vines here and try to get some sleep. I’m tired of walking.”
“Sure,” said little Geeragos. “Do you got any food left?”
“Only some lahvash crumbs from breakfast,” brother Mardiros replied. “Here, have them.”
The little boy crunched them noisily and swallowed his meager supper.
“Mardiros, are we gonna be O.K.?” he asked.
“Sure, sure. Go to sleep. Do you want me to tell you a story?”
[“Where is this kid supposed to lay his little head with no pillow or nuthin’?”, I always silently wondered.]
“Yes please,” said the little brother.
“Once upon a time, there were two brothers, Geeragos and Mardiros, who went way out in the country to go trout fishing in America.”
By this point, invariably, familiarity with the frame story — or call it “the play within the play” — would have knocked me out. Then Stevie would slip out of bed (he had his street clothes on to trick me the whole time) and go back in the living room of the ranch house we did not own, so he could watch forbidden shows like “The Outer Limits” on the metal-boxed, tube-filled, snowy-pictured black-and-white TV.
Or maybe Dad and Mom were slipping out to go dancing? They could have pressed my brother, ten years older than I, into service as kind of a mercenary babysitter. You know: “Look, Steve, if you want the car Saturday to go see your girlfriend you gotta stay here and sit by sleeping Larry and do some hard time. Got it?”
I will never know.