Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

A Single Dad’s Memoir

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It was a terrible shock when my ex-wife first told me that she was going to be moving away and taking our son John with her. I did everything I could to talk her out of leaving, especially since this was at a time when mothers were usually always granted custody by the courts, but when we ended up going through the long, bitter legal process I was the one who was granted full custody of our son.

So there I was.  And, as strange as it may sound, single parenthood ended up seeming perfectly normal to me.  Maybe it’s different if you have several kids, but I had just one boy and ample time to spend on him—on us, I should say, because we did everything together. It was the most fun time I’ve had as an adult.  Spending time with John took me back to feeling like a kid again, but with an adult’s powers and privileges. I was like a vicarious kid on steroids.

We drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces.  Our main travel thing was collecting waterfalls.  I’m fairly sure we saw every notable waterfall in North Carolina, not to mention every great one in North America. We did all of the father-son activities: little-league football, basketball, baseball, boxing, boating, golf, and camping.  We got Henry, a Saint Bernard puppy.  I loved every minute of the whole business (except getting him to practice piano, which I must say was a grinding experience).  I had to show John a good life, of course, and it certainly redounded to a great experience for me.

I fell into my present vocation as a children’s book author from all of this parenting.  I always read to John at bedtime, until he was about fourteen.  Listen, parents, you’ve got to do this!  I read him everything there was for kids, from Grimm and Tolkien and Dahl, up into Dickens and Victor Hugo.  One night when I was done reading (he was about seven), I may have suggested he make up a companion to go off to sleep with—or maybe he did it on his own.  The next day, anyhow, he introduced me to Crosley, his imaginary red crocodile friend.  I was duly charmed, and after that we started throwing Crosley ideas around at bedtime and inventing episodes for him.  This went on for over a year, and eventually I decided to put Crosley and John into a story.  As soon as I figured out why Crosley was red, everything fell into place.  (He was allergic to water!) In fact, if you look into the books, you can meet my son John when he was about nine or ten.  He’s the narrator.

Sands and his now grown son, John.

Sands and his now grown son, John.

With two titles in the Night Buddies series now (a third title will launch in early 2015) and seven national awards won so far, I’m proud to look back on what my son and I created together. Raising John by myself turned out to be quite a journey, but I think we’re both pretty happy with where we’ve ended up because of it.

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Eleanor Roosevelt and Me!

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Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt & My Grandmother

I was very nearly six when Eleanor Roosevelt came and stayed the night with us, at my grandmother’s where my mother and I lived. Our house was right next to a big army camp in Greensboro, NC. My grandmother was an education honcho, a hands-on trustee at two colleges at least, and director of the city U.S.O. One of the colleges was Bennett, a school across town for black girls. It still takes only black girls, and is virtually unique this way. Mrs. Roosevelt was giving a speech there, and it was only proper and right that she stay at my grandmother’s.

My memories of it all are fairly sketchy, because I was a shy little kid, and there was a terrible lot of bustle and fuss. I pretty much stayed away.

I remember silent men in suits standing along the edges of the front yard. I played outside a lot to avoid the goings-on in the house, but I really avoided those guys!

I only saw her once. She came along our driveway in a big car to go on a tour of the local black colleges, and I was out there in the yard. Before I could run and hide, the car slid alongside and Mrs. Roosevelt rolled her window down and gave me the nicest wave and smiled big with those wonderful teeth of hers. I really wish I had waved back, but I’m sure I just stood there.

That night she told the grownups she’d like to meet the little boy of the house. She was really nice, just like you hear. Gracious to me, even. Part of our family lore has my mother finding me and saying, “Mrs. Roosevelt wants to meet you!” That scared me good and proper and I shot back, “I done seen her.” Which was true. I can’t believe I snubbed Eleanor Roosevelt. But I’m sure she understood.

The Roosevelts were very wealthy, everybody knows that. Not to mention accomplished. But Eleanor was a Democrat to the bone, with no airs or affectations. After she left, my grandmother’s maid announced proudly to my grandmother, “You got better stockin’s than she does!”

She had three weeks remaining to be First Lady.

Note: That’s the two of them in the picture in front of some of my grandmother’s books. Miss Laura (my grandmother) was a natural speed-reader. She had over 3,000 great books, had read them all, and gave away at least 5,000 more when she was through with them. Some of them are in my personal library today, which I’m very grateful for.

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