There are growing pains occurring in a house about 110 miles north of where I live. The oldest child, a boy, is getting too big for his bed. Some days he is too big for his britches, but for now he just needs more room for rolling around in his sleep and eating his favorite ham and cheese sandwiches while relaxing.
His name happens to be Everett Paul. And he happens to be my grandson. And I happen to have a little history lesson and advice for him. So, here goes.
Mr. Everett G.
In the early days you slept behind bars. You were completely incapable of looking out for yourself. You had no idea of what kind of trouble you could get into just by sleeping in a bed. It never occurred to you that you could swallow your pillow, or stuff cheerios up your nose, or roll off a mattress and crack your head open on the floor. Your brain was mostly undeveloped, and your coordination skills were similar to that of a drunken monkey. The bars were for your own good.
Not so long ago you graduated to a new bed. It was really your old bed, but these days they make cribs like Hollywood makes Transformers. The bars were removed. The mattress was turned some other direction and lowered a bit. You got out of jail and were given a bit more freedom for crawling out on midnight adventures.
Your room used to be upstairs. Close enough to Mommy and Daddy that they could keep tabs on you. Just down the hall there were bars across the top of the staircase, which means that they didn’t trust you entirely. More accurately, they did in fact trust your inability to grasp the full effect of gravity when combined with your rambunctious tendencies for running full steam ahead without consideration for your personal safety. Beds are not the only place that a little guy can crack his head wide open.
But then one day, just out of the blue, all that changed. You moved downstairs to the big bed. You were tossed out of the only room you had ever known. The place where you had slept every day of your life. The only bed that felt right. The room where you kept all your stuffed Huffalumps and Bears and Dragons. The floor littered with cars and tractors and boats full of little people. An entire menagerie of wild kingdom lions and tigers and elephants. It was just about the coolest place on earth. And it belonged to you.
I want you to know that I understand. I had to give up my room once upon a time. I slept in the room right next to my Mom and Dad, your Great Grandparents. I had bunk beds that I turned into a secret tent by stuffing a blanket under the top mattress. I put a lamp in there so I could color and draw and play with stuff after I was supposed to be asleep. Don’t let your Mom know I gave you any ideas. One night I let the light bulb rest up against the bottom of the mattress above me and it melted the plastic cover. I got in so much trouble.
Then, like you, my world changed. I got moved to the other end of the house, right across the hall from my sister. I was getting too old for bunk beds and make-shift tent shenanigans anyway. I moved into the big bedroom that had belonged to my Grandmother.
And this is the part that I want you to know. This may not mean much to you now, but one day, maybe 60 years from now, you’ll be glad I told you this story. Ask your Mommy how long that is. I’m sure I have no idea.
Are you ready? Your new bed is my old bed. Yep, that’s right. Your Grandpa slept right where you are sleeping these days. Sorry about that drool spot. I had overactive saliva glands. I’m hoping you have a new mattress. And that mark on the headboard. I was playing with my pocketknife. And if the bottom bed post is a little loose, I was not swinging from it like Tarzan. No matter what anyone says.
I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m older than dirt, and you’d be almost right. The really cool part is that before your bed was mine, it belonged to my grandmother. I can still see her in her night gown, her slippers sitting on the floor under the edge of your bed. Now that I think about it, I really hope you have a new mattress.
You would have liked her. She lived with us when I was your age. Her name was Susie Virginia Walker Chappell. I know that’s a mouth full, but I want you to know her full name. She was your Great-Great-Grandmother. This means that you are sleeping on an ancestral piece of furniture that has been a part of our family for a long time.
So, when you lay down at night and you hide a flashlight under your pillow so you can ward off all the strange noises in your new room, just remember that you have a great big old family that is watching over you. Know that you are connected to some pretty neat people that you will never know in this life, but whom someday I hope you will meet on the other side. Susie Virginia would give up her false teeth to meet you, I’m sure of that. She might even give up her Tube Rose snuff and Green Stamp collection for the chance to tuck you into bed and kiss you on the forehead.
I really hope you enjoy your new bed. When you get to be a teenager, you’ll spend about half your life sleeping in it. Right now, you still get up early on Saturdays and drag your poor sleepy parents out of bed to feed you. In a few years, a knock will come at your door. You’ll moan under the covers. In her best stern voice, your Mom will offer some sage advice, “Get up. It’s time for lunch.” Pay attention to your Mom if you want to live a long life.
You have a great bed. I know from experience. I sat on its edge while I learned to play guitar. Your bed has listened to a lot of great 8-track music. I had friends who played on your bed. One night Billy Hearn and I stayed up late fooling around. We recorded ourselves belching as loud as we could. I had a cassette recorder with a microphone, and we played back our guttural body noises until we laughed ourselves silly.
These are things about my past that won’t matter to anyone else. I feel almost ridiculous even telling you. Some people think that a bed is nothing but wood and glue. That it’s just an old piece of furniture without a soul. But the truth is, that bed is more than just cellulose and horse hooves. That bed holds a lot of memories for me, and soon enough you’ll be making your own.
So, take care of our bed. No jumping. And no swinging off the bed post. At least, not when your Mom is watching.