Sometimes, a walk down memory lane… sucks.

One of the cool things about kids is that they unintentionally unearth back-of-the-rack childhood memories.

It’s like my brain is filled with long, dimly-lit corridors, crammed with stuff I’ll never find. And, like kids running with arms outstretched down a grocery story aisle, eventually, they’re bound to knock something off a shelf.

It happens periodically. Most recently, this morning. The kids are attending a Harry Potter camp, and they were chattering about puffs… puffs, pygmy puffs and magic. It wasn’t long before my brain drifted to the song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

I don’t know if my parents owned the record, but I distinctly remember hearing the song in my Dad’s green MG. I was pretty young, waiting in the car, while Dad retrieved his dry cleaning. I remember twisting the radio’s black rubber knobs (which I was allowed to use, opposed to the TV dials which I couldn’t touch, after I accidentally removed the on/off knob). I heard that song several times.

Puff the Magic Dragon,” I tested aloud in the kitchen, “lived by the sea, and… and….what did he do? Something, something, in a land called Homily.”

The kids immediately took interest. They didn’t know the song, but they wanted to know it.

I googled the title on my phone and it popped up, accompanied by a low-grade, still-frame youtube video. I hit “play,” and resumed breakfast distribution and lunch assembly.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea

And frolicked in the autumn mist

in a land called Honahlee

“Autumn mist, that’s it!” I said. “Now it’s coming back to me.”

But as it came back, so did the vague notion that this tale about a boy and his dragon didn’t end well.

Sure enough, as little Jackie Paper and that rascal Puff, frolicked, and sailed happily around the world, a feeling of dread settled over me.

“Hey,” I said slowly. “I should mention that things might not end well for Puff…”

Just then, Peter, Paul and Mary hit the stanza where Jackie Paper — lured by toys — loses interest in Puff. He totally disses the dragon, and Puff plummets into a deep depression. His scales fall off, he slips into a cave, and presumably dies.

That’s when Hadley unleashed a guttural cry. “That is SO SAD!” she wailed hysterically, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The dragon was his best friend and he ignored him! And he died!”

Cayden hugged Hadley and he started crying. Brynn hadn’t quite grasped the ending, but her eyes welled up, too.

“Hey, stop crying! It’s just a song,” I said, grabbing my phone. “Look, this isn’t even Puff! Puff has green scales! This stupid dragon is orange!”

Hadley kept sobbing.

“You never cried when I read The Giving Tree,” I said. “That boy cuts his beloved tree down to the stump, and you never got sad about that!”

“A tree isn’t the same as a dragon!” Cayden replied tearfully.

In the early 1970s, I never cried over Puff. But there wasn’t any visual evidence of the dragon’s demise. It was just a strange, kid-appealing song among adult contemporary radio rotation.

“Seriously, stop crying,” I said, semi-sternly. “Hey, some people think that ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is about smoking pot!”

That didn’t help.

“Okay, you can update the song, with a modern spin,” I suggested. “Nowadays, the boy would ditch Puff, and some cool girl — who doesn’t fall for cheap, plastic crap made in China — would become Puff’s best friend. And together, they’d sail the world, and find Jackie Paper’s house… probably in some shoddy subdivision. And then Puff would use his fire-breathing skills to torch the roof off!” I gave the kids an encouraging smile.

“You could end the song that way. Puff would live happily ever after! Well, assuming he didn’t encounter a US Navy destroyer… or Somali pirates.”

Cayden mulled this over. Hadley remained remorse until we shifted back to Harry Potter.

So, what did I learn today?

It is possible to make three kids cry simultaneously at breakfast.

And some memories, miraculously unearthed, are best re-shelved.