In those dark quiet hours of the night before sleep comes, our mind travels over many miles, exploring and revisiting memories from the past. Long dead relatives and friends come calling, often mixed in with an unfinished garden chore of that day. Vestiges of unrelated minutia crowd in to confuse and confound.
On nights when I fight my pillow and toss around like a tree in a windstorm, I remember all the beds I have slept or tried to sleep in. Moving often, as I did as a child, made me an expert bed tester. I mostly slept with my mother when my father was at sea, rarely having a bed of my own. When at Auntie’s, I slept on a cot in her sewing room, looking out the dark window at a few twinkling stars, and listening for the sound of a faraway train, while counting each chime of the old clock outside my door.
After moving to Connecticut, I often listened to the sound of the radio from another room, and joined the realistic panic after listening to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds”, or “The Battle of the Sexes” radio show. Later, during the War, while staying with Aunt Hazel, my mother and I shared a makeshift bed in their common room, all of us listening to the Richfield Reporter give us the latest news of the War, and wondering where my father was that night. The summer we were with them, my mother and I slept one night outdoors in an open field counting shooting stars in August.
On a recent sleepless night, I was confronted in my mind’s eye with a child standing quietly while gazing around her in a tentative way. She simply stood in the middle of the room looking over at a piano which stood against one wall, and then at the many books on shelves in an alcove. She made no move to walk over to either, nor did she ask permission to either play the piano or read a book. She exhibited no interest in what the others in the room were doing, and seemed not to care that she was not a part of it. She simply stood alone in the middle of it all.
She was about eight years old, with a short Dutch cut hairdo, and dressed in the style of the 1930’s; cotton dress with puffed sleeves, and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. As I wondered who she was and where she had sprung from, I recognized my mother, Grandmother and Aunt Georgia greeting one another with hugs and kisses, and I realized the child was me. I was being delivered to Auntie’s for another extended stay. I don’t remember if I had a little travel case, or what I often brought with me when I came to stay.
While recognizing this, it made me wonder just what my thoughts had been on the many times I came to visit. Was I happy to come, or sorry to leave Grandma’s house. I think I simply went where I was taken without any drama. Surely I loved Auntie and knew she felt the same, after all, I had been taken there since I was a baby in arms, while my mother would take a job. Remember that it was the Great Depression, and jobs were not easy to find and keep if you had few skills.
The great love affair of my parents lasted throughout their lives, though they were separated through a great deal of it due to the call of the United States Navy. When his ship came in, and she found it possible, she traveled to where he was. I was fortunate
to have a loving Grandma and my dear Auntie, though I sometimes wondered if Uncle Phil was as thrilled to have me.
Looking back at the child, I saw that she/I, though not shy, politely waited on the sidelines, deciding whether to sit or wait to see what the rest of them did. When I realized that, I saw that though not an introvert, I really DO wait to see how the land lies when in a new or different situation. Perhaps this is what the child came to show me. We do not change very much through the years. We are what we have always been, only more so.
I was an only, though not lonely child. Being alone most of the time, I created my own fun or amusement. We did not live near other children, and moved so often I did not make friends easily until my high school years. Those friends are still with me after all these years and we meet once a month in Alameda. I am frequently reminded by those women of some of the wild or risky things I apparently got them into. Perhaps the quiet introspective child was simply biding her time and plotting all those quiet years. Or maybe she was simply weighing her options. Either way I’m glad she showed up the other night. It was good to meet her again.
Through the years, most of us cove a lot of territory during the night hours. No one has come up with a foolproof way to get and stay asleep, but as long as we can recapture the scenes of our life while safe in our beds it’s a nice end to the day.
20 thoughts on “THE CHILD”
Wow. This is so evocative. This story captivated me as it unfolded. I can see that you were a calm and retrospective child, which might explain why you are a writer today.
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing the memory.
Sooo sweet auntie dear.
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“We are what we have always been, only more so.”—I think that’s very true. We can learn how to adapt to different situations, and even become adept at blending into them, even if they’re not the most comfortable fit for us. But deep down, our personalities and our reactions to our world don’t really change much.
Yes, we don’t really change, and you learn what to overlook. Back in the 70’s we said “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s all small stuff.”
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Beautifully written, Kayti. The events of your childhood are described in detail and are convincing – something you remember, not a story the adults told about your childhood.
Funnily, I don’t remember anyone in my adult family reminding me of anything I said or did as a child. I am still telling daughters and grandchildren of all the cute things they did. Maybe I never did anything worth remembering LOL.
I doubt that very much.
Yes, that’s how it goes, Kayti. A great memory and wonderfully evocative. You are really a very good writer.
It is funny that sleepless nights bring on those long gone episodes of childhood.
I remember during the war being left to an uncle and auntie in Rotterdam. The uncle was a tailer. He used to dress in an apron and always held a piece of sharp crayon. I slept in a cot that was perched on narrow stairs. I spent the time looking at the wallpaper while at the same time fiddling trying to lift the edge of where the wallpaper lined up.
I still don’t know the significance of that memory. Why was I sleeping on those stairs?
Yes, things were obviously not normal during the war, more so on your side of the pond. Parents had to make do with wherever they could to keep the children safe. I was told by one friend that she was put to sleep in a large drawer as a little one. I sometimes slept in a large chair of my Grandmother. The same chair now resides in my living room.. Children in those days went where they were taken with no objections. The old saying was “children should be seen but not heard.”
As you know, a writer’s mind never goes blank, and sometimes the best ideas come at night.
Lovely story, it is wonderful how and when all the memories chose to return to us. Very touching. x
Sometimes you wish they would all go to sleep. It gets a little busy at night sometimes with all those old thoughts. LOL
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Though I dislike tossing and turning, throwing covers off and pulling them back on again, on those nights when I can sink into a memory of myself or others I have loved and enjoyed, I settle and eventually sleep with happiness in my heart. Thank you for writing this story and allowing all of us to know you as a child.
I love your phrase “happiness in my heart”. It’s important now and then to remember where you came from and how you got where you are. An extra journey through time. It always amazes me how long forgotten memories crop up in the midnight hour. Telephone or house numbers reappear. Strange.
In some strange way, I envy people who sometimes are sleepless in the night. My routine almost never varies. I go to bed, lay my head on the pillow, and in five minutes or less I’m asleep until the next morning. I never need an alarm clock to wake: I suspect that’s because I work by the sun and not by the clock. If I had to be at work at 9 a.m every morning, that would be one thing. But I can’t work until the sun is up and has dried the dew, so what the clock says is immaterial.
Like you, I was an only child, but not lonely. Perhaps in that sense my work today’s an extension of that happy childhood. I work alone on the docks, but enjoy being alone with my thoughts in the outdoors. There’s an independence that develops in such a situation, although it sometimes takes a bit of time to emerge. Decades, even — but if it finally takes hold, life can be wonderful.
Oh! When I went up to see my aunt over Memorial Day, I stopped at Crystal Bridges Museum to see the new Georgia O’Keefe exhibit. I’ll be posting about it — it was quite interesting.
I’ll go online to see if I can see anything. It’s such a great museum.
Sam is like you–puts his head down and he is out till morning. I blame my sleeplessness on Charlie, because as he has aged, he needs to go out during the night. My pattern is sleep two hours, outside with C. and then hope I can go back to sleep. It’s OK though, I do a lot of writing in my head during those hours.
I was never lonely as a child either. I remember making fantastic paper dolls with great outfits for one thing. I made up games, etc. I like being alone and thinking. My painting studio is a great place to hide out in.