Posted by: trevormeers | February 7, 2011

The Return of Jack and Vinny

It’s hard to remember now exactly where I first met Jack and Vinny. One, I’m thinking, I first encountered in western South Dakota in a truck stop aisle somewhere between bungee cords and taillight bulbs. I think I picked up the other one at a South Dakota gift shop when the end of a business trip caught me without a dad’s-coming-home gift.

Jack and Vinny shortly after meeting their new owners in 2005.

They weren’t originally planned as partners, but when circumstances threw them together, the pairing was immediately something special. One night at bedtime, Allison grabbed Jack (a stuffed prairie dog) and Vinnie (a buffalo) and said, “Tell a story!” Every parent of small kids has to dig deep to find the energy for an improv act at bedtime. But the last hour of a long day is usually like the final mile of a marathon; hard as it is to grind out, that’s typically where your family is waiting.

So I took Jack in one hand, Vinny in the other and started talking until a story unspooled itself into something that entertained a couple of little girls in footie jammies for a few minutes. The Prairie Dog And Bison Revue was a big enough hit that it came back the next night, and the next. And before a week was up, Jack emerged as the brains of the outfit, Vinny the brawn. Jack cooked up schemes that involved plots like getting free snacks at the Iowa State Fair, then jumped on Vinny’s back to race down the midway. Inevitably, they both wound up flying through the bedroom and landing in a heap on the Dora the Explorer blanket.

Somewhere along the line, Vinny’s deep-seated fear of bagels revealed itself. About three-quarters of the way through every story, Vinny would inevitably encounter a bagel, scream at the top of his bison lungs and bolt off in a wild stampede around the room. Jack—always thinking—held onto Vinny’s horns, riding his out-of-control buddy to exactly the destination he’d had in mind the whole time.  The other staple moment came every night in the midst of Vinny’s mad dash, when an elevator bell went “DING!” and Vinny and Jack screeched to a halt while Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” played Muzak-style. Then the elevator BING! sounded again and Jack and Vinny could continue their mad rush to wherever they were heading. It was gold every time.

As Jack and Vinny’s adventures took them hurtling around the Midwest each night, I easily slipped into the comfortable track my own mom and dad had laid with bedtime stories more than two decades earlier. When mom told the stories, they starred Yutherford Yakkity-Yak, who teamed up every night with two little boys to battle evil wherever lurked. When my dad dropped in for a story time appearance, the stories took on a post-modern flavor as the plots were hard to follow, but full of compelling characters. You could never figure out exactly what the villainous Mr. Sucker was trying to accomplish, but Sammy the Snake (who tended to shoot himself from cannons a lot to get around town) always foiled the plan.

It took the arrival of Jack and Vinny to really get my Daddy Storytime Gene going. Despite 50-odd stuffed animals living in various corners of our girls’ rooms, these two were the first ones to whom I really related. Jack and Vinny aren’t giant-headed cats from Japan or Disney marketing vehicles or animals colored in shades you’d never find in nature. They represent real animals we encountered in real life when we visited as a family. Their adventures were a chance to relive our own.

About a year after they arrived, the prairie dog and the bison went into a quiet period. Somewhere along the line, they got tucked into a plastic bin, and we moved on to bedtime books. A couple of times, I asked “Whatever happened to Jack and Vinny?” and Alli would quickly say, “I don’t know. Go ahead and read American Girl now.” But just a few nights ago, there was a room-cleaning binge, and Jack and Vinny came bouncing back, flying across the bedroom and landing on my head as we prepared for bedtime. “Jack and Vinny story!” Allison demanded.

The prairie dog and bison back in business on their second world tour.

It took me a minute to shake off the rust and figure out how Vinny was going to run across a bagel at just the right moment. But I was glad to work back into the old rhythm again, and especially glad that even though Allison knows modern media well enough to parody it in her own stories, she can still enjoy a good yarn from a couple of stuffed animals who don’t sing, walk or connect to the Internet.

It wasn’t that long ago that storytelling filled the evening hours in homes, entertaining kids, developing imaginations and passing along important references and values. But it’s become easy for weary parents to hand off their storytelling role to people their kids have never met, plugging them into signals from places even the parents have never been. But my kids won’t let me forget that the stories that stick are the unplugged editions fueled by no more than a souvenir animal and a parents’ imagination. Over the last couple of years, when Allison comes asking for a story, she usually doesn’t bring one of the hundreds of books stacked around the house or a DVD player. She brings Jack and Vinny. Or a little whiteboard we can draw pictures on as we spool out a story. Or the painfully earnest book about a kids’ first airplane trip in the 1970s, which she finds hilarious when I make up new dialog for all the characters.

Jack and Vinny have been hanging out on the chest at the end of our bed for a couple of weeks now. We’re not in any rush to take them back to their designated corner in the closet. Allison’s almost as tall as her mom now, and I’m still sleepy at night. But everybody still crowds onto the big bed to see what scheme Jack’s cooked today and how Vinny’s going to discover a bagel this time. And that’s a scene no one’s ready to see end.

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Responses

  1. Do your daughters have any idea how very special and talented their Dad is? What a gift you are to your family! And thanks for sharing your stories… yet another great “read”!

  2. Great read, Trevor. My favorite has to be your recount as an adult of the stories that your dad came up with – priceless!!!


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