Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In the Still of the Night

I have been spending a little bit more time at my parents' house lately and I wanted to write a sort of homage to my childhood home and my family but nothing came to me. I realized I had summed it up best with this post from last year. There was always something magical about our house at night: 

Nights at my familial home were generally very still ones, the quiet broken now and again by the sound of my Daddy getting a drink from the refrigerator or going to the basement for a smoke while he was reading, playing chess and listening to music. I would spend time in bed, staring at the textured cream ceiling above me, imagining him in his work clothes; button up shirt, khaki pants, dress loafers now replaced with moccasin slippers. He'd be sitting with books all around him, his little portable chess board propped up in his lap or on the table in front of him, chess books with the symbols that always confused me opened to various pages and marked with random strips of paper.

His legs would be crossed and he would be leaning over a book or the chess board far enough so that one sharp elbow could be propped on one thin knobby knee. Two fingers would lie pointing up next to his nose, his chin resting on his thumb, his fat lips puckered, deep in thought. Periodically he would break his sitting position and run his fingers through his dark, thinning hair.
I would toss and turn in my bed, pick a book from my headboard bookcase, read, open the window, close the window, pull out a notebook, put it back, pull it out again. My room was the on the top floor of our home, the whole attic to myself, partially because of my insomnia, partially because I was the oldest of five children. Listless and frustrated I would sometimes get out of bed and sit at my vanity. I would look in the mirror and brush my thick dark locks over and over again until they were glossy and smooth and my scalp slightly ached from pulling and pulling.

Back in my bed I would listen to my family on the floors of our home below.

Depending on the ages of my siblings the night's stillness might be broken by a baby’s cries, or a toddler’s laughter. Sometimes newborn brothers or sisters would waken and I would hear Momma rising from her bed to comfort and nurse the new members of the family. I would spend time in bed, staring at the textured cream ceiling above me and imagine my Momma in her white nightgown, little rosebuds littering the flannel-like material, the neckline stretched and slightly torn from the strains of pulling her breasts in and out of it. She would be back in her bed, baby cradled in her arms, nursing loudly in the night. Sighing, leaning her head back against the knobby oak headboard, in and out of sleep herself. She would sometimes sing:

"Rock me to sleep in an old rocking chair and make me a child again,
sing me an old-time lullaby, one with a sweet refrain...
just lay your head on my shoulder, the angels with keep us from harm,
rock me to sleep in an old rocking chair, safe in my Momma's arms"

and sometimes:

"This little girl/boy of mine, this little girl/boy of mine,
a tiny turned up nose, two cheeks just like a rose,
this little girl/boy of mine, this little girl/boy of mine,
You'll never know, just what your coming has meant,
I'll tell you something though, it must be heaven sent..."

There was silence again as my mother and sibling slumbered, holding each other tight.

I would finally fall asleep listening to the sounds of my family and our house. In the morning, ironically, I was always the first to wake and would descend from my attic abode tip toeing through the rooms. I would sometimes take a moment to look at my peaceful family, devoid of personality and speech, sleeping soundly.
I would often be jealous of them, how easily they lay in repose, how serene they seemed. Other times I would be proud of my secret knowledge: the Keeper of the Night, the Knower of What Happens in the Still.