Bedtime was eight o’clock. The clanging of the ancient Seth Thomas mantle clock downstairs seemed to reverberate through the whole house as it announced midnight. I was still awake, as usual. The sweltering South Texas heat wasn’t the culprit, but it certainly didn’t help. The old hassock fan in the middle of the converted attic room did little more than swirl around the suffocating air, and not even much of that since my older brother had put some books under the leg on his side to aim the airflow up to his level. The heat was incessant, an ever-present condition, but that couldn’t explain my sleeplessness. Come to think of it, the sleeplessness was also incessant, a chronic predicament for me. Every night, it was the same. Headed up the stairs with my three brothers, two of us to a room, to be abed by eight o’clock. The logic evades me today, much as it did way back then. Perhaps the early bedtime was like the Sunday afternoon nap; not so much a necessity for the children as it was a respite for the exhausted parents. Who couldn’t use a quiet hour or two without five kids underfoot, as they were all day?
The time to relax and unwind probably wasn’t all that restful for them, though. Within minutes, the arguments upstairs would start over picayune matters. The position of the fan comes to mind, but there were other situations, insignificant now, but of weighty import to an eight or nine year old intent on not conforming to this “early to bed, early to rise” philosophy. Any argument which could pass five minutes meant less time to wish I were doing something more profitable than lying in the (to me) useless bed. The inevitable footstep at the bottom of the stairwell and the stern, “Boys!” would also soon be heard, with a resultant hush for a few moments, only to have the melee break out anew within a short period of time. There might be one more vocal warning before more drastic measures were taken, but even the trip downstairs for a little corporal punishment didn’t serve the purpose intended, since I was more wide awake than ever when I returned to bed.
One of my older brothers in the other room was always oblivious of this activity, since he was usually asleep when his head hit the pillow. My eldest brother, in the second bed in that room, was so much older than I (four years), that he didn’t deign to be drawn into the petty activities often, but I do remember a few incidents which included his presence. Once in awhile, wide awake and restless, we would scheme and then would slip out of the house via the window and roof. The converted attic rooms we were in utilized a dormer design which put the roof right outside our window at a convenient height to step out onto, allowing us to traverse the length of the house at the highest peak to a conveniently placed tree at the back corner. I remember late night bike rides, flags raised on the mailboxes up and down the street, doorbells rung, and even a close escape from the police in town one night. All too soon (or not a moment too soon, depending on your perspective), Dad discovered the nighttime forays and nailed the window screens shut, putting a stop to that nocturnal activity.
We grew up, with the bedtime curfews moving later with our ages, but still it was never late enough for me. Even today, decades later, I will freely admit that I function best during the nighttime hours. My thought processes seem more lucid, the creativity flows in a way it never does during daylight. The musical instruments beg to be employed after bedtime for normal folks, the books call to me from their repose on the shelf. I’m even ready to follow my regimen of physical exercise more often as the wee hours arrive, with the added benefit that the late night walks and runs allow me to observe the nocturnal habits of some of the more shy wildlife.
I had always expected that these habits would change as I aged, my bedtime coming more into line with the accepted norms among my peers. But we sit in meetings that run late and even the young folks start to yawn and stare glassy-eyed as we approach ten o’clock, and I’m ready to keep going. Bedtime has actually moved later as I’ve grown past middle age. Unfortunately, the time to arise in the morning hasn’t moved a commensurate amount, so five hours of sleep a night is average, with that amount padded a bit, aided by an evening nap on days when there is opportunity. My doctor is not happy, but I have tried earlier bedtime with disastrous results. Lying in bed before becoming tired enough to sleep only causes stress, which causes…guess what? Yep, less sleep. I think I’ll continue to go to bed when I’m sleepy and trust that my body will know to demand more rest when it’s necessary. I have especially enjoyed the late night hours for the last few months, as I’ve had opportunity to put my thoughts into written form in this blog. If there has been no other benefit, the joy at expressing my ideas in this way has been an exhilarating experience for this old coot. No doubt, I’ve benefited immensely more than the readers have. Nevertheless, I thank any of you who have taken time to glean a morsel here and there, too.
Oh! I saw a list of possible causes of sleeplessness recently. The one that jumped out at me was mental illness, but I’m going to leave that can of worms unopened. As the folks at Fox say, “I report, you decide.”
“Dawn: when men of reason go to bed.”
(Ambrose Bierce~American journalist and writer~1842-1914)
“Adam laid himself down in Paradise to sleep
While from him was taken a wife to keep.
Adam, poor father of creation’s best
Your first taste of sleep was your last of rest.”
(Matthias Claudius~German poet~1740-1815)