Saturday, October 13, 2012

The old man, and Bob the Gnome.

When I was a child, and when I wouldn't go to sleep at night, my siblings and I were told of an old man, "o velho" who walked down the streets at night with a large sack over his shoulder searching for noisy children who misbehaved and would not sleep at night. If he came to a house where there was a noisy child, he would knock on the door. If the child persisted to not sleep after the knock, he would go through an open window, search for the child, and put him or her in his large sack. At the end of the night he would throw the sack in a river.

I cannot tell you the countless times "o velho" visited our home throughout my childhood. The sound of the knock would send me to a frightened state, and all fell silent.

"O velho!" my mother would exclaim in her most distressed voice.

At the announcement of "o velho" at the door, I quickly closed my eyes tightly and try to sleep. I would listen intently as my mother would continue to recite her nightly prayers whispered in Portuguese. That and a song of Ave Maria would usually do the trick, sending the old man back to his walk down Alamo Avenue.

Eventually, after years of his visits, we all knew that there was no "old man" walking the streets at night, and that the knock on the door was really my mother or father knocking on our bedroom wall, or any wall nearest at the time. Yes, we all eventually found out it was all an evil hoax, but the threat of the old man was enough to still make us silent. Even through our giggles, we would make a serious effort to fall asleep. We would even knock on the walls ourselves to mock our parents, but eventually we would go to sleep.

The old man story was a scare tactic brought down from generation to generation--it was used on my mom, and her parents before her. Who knows how long "O velho" had visited this family throughout the years. It may sound like a cruel and frightening way for any child to be coaxed to sleep, but I will say it did work, and I do confess I have tried it with my own children, but with little success; especially with my youngest child.

No, Nicholas did not buy the idea of an old man walking the streets with a sack over his shoulder. I had to think of something different. It would be years later, that Nicholas would confess to me his constant nightmares of a little garden gnome that sat on a swing in our backyard.

Yes, instead of "o velho" we had Bob the Gnome.

Bob the Gnome was bought at the drug store one spring day. He wore a little red hat, and sat on a swing. I immediately fell in love with this little garden gnome, and I happily brought him home. My husband hung the little man and his swing on the little cherry blossom tree that was growing in the corner of our backyard. The children named the gnome "Bob" and everyone seemed to enjoy his silent presence in the backyard, everyone except Nicholas.

I hate to admit this, but when Nicholas misbehaved, I told him that Bob was not happy. Nicholas would look outside the sliding door window to see if it was really true. Bob was sitting on his swing, but I warned my son that he could easily jump off that swing and pay Nicholas a visit if he didn't behave. The thought of this garden gnome coming to life must have shocked Nicholas, and soon only the mention of the name "Bob" would set the boy into sweet silence. It worked, and there was temporary peace, and that is all I cared about for that particular moment, but of course the older children in the household had a field day with this. They enjoyed telling their younger brother how upset Bob was going to be with him if he didn't stop crying--stories that I probably don't even know about.

One day, the cherry blossom tree, Bob's home for a number of years was chopped down to make way of a swimming pool, and Nicholas could not have been happier. It was then that Nicholas confessed to me his many dreams of Bob the Gnome. Apparently, Bob would visit him at night in his dreams. His face would peer at him through the window, and sometimes Bob would at time be chasing him throughout the house with a branch from the cherry blossom tree. Needless to say, Nicholas was not going to miss Bob. All of this naturally made me feel horrible, but Bob had filled his purpose; he did his duty, it was time for this little old man to retire.

Bob and his swing now sits in a box in the attic; waiting for a new generation and a new tree.