The subject line on the email simply read Ton Ton. When I clicked, the body of the email was empty. My brother is very eloquent and usually wraps his words carefully before sending them off. So I searched for the meaning of Ton Ton to see if I had missed something. I found: the name of a restaurant in Atlanta, an animated bear and a “childish word for uncle in French Creole.”
I got it.
Just before Kojo was born, I asked my brother, “So what do you want him to call you?”
“Let me think about it,” he had said.
When I received his answer many months later, I wrote back:
What’s up with Ton Ton? And by the way, is it pronounced Tone Tone or Tawn Tawn?
My oldest brother was the responsible one. He is the one in the photo of the three of us with Santa wearing the brown turtle neck, standing next to the bearded stranger looking fearlessly into the camera. My other brother and I look ridiculous by contrast with teary eyes squirming uncomfortably on red velvet knees. He did everything first and we followed closely behind him.
I was looking for something playful, easy to say, and funny. I want to be the entertaining uncle who shows up, let’s loose and crawls all over the floor. I did lots of research and liked the sound and feel of Ton Ton (pronounced Tone Tone). Besides, it reminds me of the word tonto in Spanish which means silly.
That subject line so long ago, now flows off Kojo’s tongue.
“When is Ton Ton coming? Will Ton Ton be there? Did Ton Ton give me this?”
Ton Ton certainly has lived up to his promise.
One afternoon after reading a story about a bagpiper to Kojo, Ton Ton decided to show him a bit of Scottish dancing. Ton Ton has neither been to Scotland nor taken any sort of folk dancing class. He searched quickly for some proper Scottish folk music and turned up the volume and there right next to kitchen table, he began to move like we’ve never seen before.
Ton Ton’s long legs seemed weightless above the rug as he lifted his knees higher than the kitchen counter behind him, his socked feet moved this way and that appearing to be one giant white blur, he raised his hands in some sort of catch-a-bird way to the left and right.
Kojo and I, who were lucky enough to be sitting in front row seats, saw it all up close. We could see the sweat begin to gather on Ton Ton’s forehead and see his lips pushing down his desperate urge to laugh. Somehow, he managed to stay in character. Kojo and I, on the other hand, were barely able to sit up. We laughed and giggled so intensely that we both began to have trouble breathing.
Then, it happened. Between steps, his blurred feet landed slightly off center and the rug underneath him moved away from his towering body. The momentum threw him up in the air and flat onto the rug.
At this point, I could not see clearly because my eyes were filled with tears. I really wanted to check to see if he was ok but I was paralyzed with laughter.
Ton Ton looked up from the kitchen floor and immediately saw Kojo’s look of concern. He hopped back onto his feet and with a big smile said, “I’m OK!”
He kicked the rug back into place as he raised his hands again to the left and to the right. The song played, Ton Ton danced, I dried my eyes, and Kojo watched.
All responsible grown men, whether lawyers, accountants, or engineers, should consider channelling their inner Ton Ton. To this day, Kojo handles great falls well. He gets up and says, “I’m OK!” And we both smile.
In case you are reading this today, Happy Birthday, Ton Ton!