When I was about six- or seven-years-old, I formed a strange sort of fascination with all things Kenny Rogers. Don't ask how it happened. But if I had to pinpoint a reason, I guess I could blame my parents - they were fans of his music and they never stopped me when I belted out "Lady" in the shower or decided to sing a rendition of "The Gambler" at a school talent show. (Yeah, it's a painful memory, thanks mom and dad.) Whatever the reason, by the second or third grade, I was a full-fledged Kenny fanatic.
A few weeks ago, when searching my own internal songbook for any sort of lullaby not currently covered by the Wiggles, I somehow returned to my Kenny Rogers roots.
"Sing to me mommy," Erin requested during a particularly difficult bedtime session: Pat was working a 24, baby Jeremiah was unusually fussy and three books, a couple of cookies and some serious hypnotics had done nothing in terms of helping my toddler fall asleep.
She couldn't be serious. I'm the girl that people usually ask to stop singing. I get booed at karaoke. People change seats at church. As Pop puts it, I can't carry a tune in a paper bag.
But she pleaded and I was desperate, so I tried Twinkle, Twinkle. She loved it. I moved on to Itsy, Bitsy. Big hit. I pulled a Peter, Paul and Mary favorite out of my back pocket and she totally rocked out to Puff the Magic Dragon. But there was only one problem: We were one hour into this ritual and she was still wide awake. Command decision: I needed to move away from kid friendly and move on to something completely non-stimulating.
I dug deep: The Eagles, Peaceful, Easy Feeling. Nice. She's dozing. But I only know the refrain. I start humming the rest, she opens her eyes. How 'bout Billy Joel? Piano Man. I sing "the microphone smells like a beer," and she starts to giggle. I realize all of the songs that I truly know by heart are bar music from a variety of jukeboxes - totally inappropriate for bedtime. Damn you Waterside. Damn that Budweiser minor I picked up in college.
And then it came to me.
"On a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with the Gambler, we were both too tired to sleep."
She's completely still. Are her eyes closing? Yes!
"So we took turns a-staring, out the window in the darkness, til boredom overtook us and he began to speak..."
I could have stopped, two lines and she was snoring. Jeremiah even liked it. He stared open-mouthed, eyes wide open. I think he was in awe of my lyrical interpretation. But then again, it probably was gas. Either way, I was impressing myself, so I sang some more.
"He said son, I've made a life out of reading people's faces, knowing what their cards were by the way they held their eyes...and if you don't mind my saying, I can see you're out of aces, for a taste of your whiskey, I'll give you some advice."
How could I remember all of these words after 25 years?
"So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow, then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light. And the night got deathly quiet and his face lost all expression, if you're gonna play the game boy, you gotta learn to play it right."
This is like poetry.
"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you're sitting at the table, there'll be time enough for counting when the dealings done."
Could this possibly be my answer to bedtime woes? A couple of verses about dead cowboys and whiskey? I tried it a few more times that week and each night it worked like a charm.
A few nights later, I read the obligatory books - Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty - before Erin turned to me and asked for a little music.
"Can you sing that song about the train again?" she said.
"The Gambler?" I countered.
"Yeah, the one with the cards and the whiskey," she said.
Awesome, I thought, I really hope she doesn't tell her preschool teacher that I sing her songs about beer and whiskey at night.
And so the tradition of Kenny continues. Bedtime might be for stories and cuddling, but in the Gorman house, I take requests.