I have the great honor of being a godfather to the daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends. This sweet little red-headed girl is the light of my life. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. We talk regularly over the phone and write silly letters to each other fairly often. Whenever I’m feeling down, or having a bad day at work, or just need a “feel good” moment I know I can count on her to lift my spirits.
Several years ago, shortly after her father passed away, I was down in Memphis visiting her and her mother. It was a tough time for everybody, but I did my best to help both of them through it. As I mentioned, her mother is one of my best friends and when she called with the tragic news I immediately started driving south.
I’d been staying with another friend down there for about a week following the tragedy. Her mother felt that it was time to go back to work and start living again. So I quickly volunteered to baby-sit my goddaughter, who was 4-years old at this time.
We were having a pretty good evening, watching movies, playing games and just generally enjoying each other’s company. She refers to me as “Uncle Jim” and I do believe that I was at that time her absolute favorite toy.
At some point during the evening, as she was tiring out and bedtime was nearing, she had a little fit over something. I don’t even remember what it was about. This was the part of dealing with her that I hated – discipline. That little girl has me wrapped around her little finger very tightly, and she knows it. But, as I remember from my childhood, discipline is necessary. So to put an end to the fit, I sentenced her to the dreaded “time out.”
The seconds peeled off the clock with the agonizing slowness generally reserved for dental procedures or bad community theater. Her soft, quiet, little whimpering was the most painful sound I could possibly imagine. Yet, somehow, I made it all the way to the full five-minute mark before rushing to her side. I gave her a hug and told her how much I loved her.
As we discussed why the “time out” had been necessary, I pulled a big red farmer’s handkerchief out of my pocket and dried her little tears. She pointed at this giant swatch of red calico and said “What’s that Uncle Jim?” I told her that it was a handkerchief. She responded, “What is it for?”
I was so proud of my cleverness and quick thinking as I replied, “A gentleman always carries a handkerchief so that he can dry a lady’s tears.” She paused to think that over. Gradually a sweet smile replaced the frown on her little face as she said, “That means I’m a lady!”
As we recovered from the trauma of the “time out,” bedtime neared. She pleaded to be allowed to sleep on the sofa in the living room so that she could greet her mother when she arrived. Having used up my full allotment of disciplinary powers for the evening, I conceded the point. I tucked her in under the blankets on the sofa, kissed her little forehead, got her a drink of water, untucked her so that she could go to the bathroom, tucked her back in, etc. Eventually, when that ritual was over, I settled into the far corner of the room to read my book under a single dim lamp.
Finally, at the proscribed hour, her mother returned home from work. The sweet little child, that I love more than life itself, bounded up off of the sofa and ran to her mother. A great deal of hugging and mutual assurance of love and need ensued. And then, with one single devastating sentence, this charming little child dropped an atomic bomb into the room. She turned to me, and with all of the formidable charm and sweetness she possessed said, “Uncle Jim, show Momma that red thing in your pants that made me a lady tonight!”
Off course, I dropped to my knees with a speed that I never knew I possessed and immediately began to wave the big red farmer’s handkerchief in the air. With a degree of diplomacy not seen since Henry Kissinger negotiated a ping-pong tournament in China, I rapidly and delicately explained the entire tale. Time moved even slower than it had during the “time out” which started this entire process. I’m not sure how long it took before Momma decided not to kill me on the spot, but I know that it was at least a month’s worth of stress on my poor old psyche. It has since become a favorite tale amongst our circle, but I can’t recall any tale that was so hard earned.