My stepfather Joe could sleep anytime and anywhere. I used to think that was a special skill. Now that I’m older, I realize that it’s an acquired skill given to father’s as they are beaten down by years of sleepless nights and endless days.
Recently, I wrote about my not getting very much REM sleep. I wonder if the band members of REM had this same problem after losing their religion. In any event, one of the activities I plan my day around, (or at least try to), is my afternoon ‘power’ nap. I actually did some research on this topic, (please don’t faint). According to Webmd, it says that REM sleep really helps to make one’s brain more creative. Maybe this is why my wife can be so creative – she gets to sleep through the night. Me, I really look forward to my afternoon nap just to get me through to the end of America’s Got Talent.
We have a great breezeway that captures the awesome westerly Delta winds and on the days that there is no breeze, we have a nice ceiling fan that can serve as a substitute. Now insert very low humidity and lack of buzzing insects landing on the face and arms, and you have the premiere napping environment! Each afternoon, (if not out golfing), I will pull around a portable chaise lounge in order to nap beneath the fan. The temperature under the shade may be as high as 95, but with no humidity the napping is perfect. As long as the pool boy doesn’t interrupt me, I can fall asleep within a few short minutes. I will wake up 20 minutes later feeling totally refreshed and ready for the balance of the day.
The same applies at night. When I am ready to sleep, I can close my eyes and be asleep within less than five minutes. The only thing to keep me awake is worrying about my children’s most recent tribulation or my wife pulling a ‘Lorraine’ in my ear.
Maybe it’s a ‘Dad thing’. Maybe it’s an acquired skill built upon years of sleepless nights changing diapers and feeding babies. Whatever or however, now I get it; I now see how easy it was for my stepfather Joe to fall asleep virtually anytime or anywhere. In defense, (or explanation), of Joe, he would often be away from the house from early Monday morning until Friday afternoon. He was a traveling service technician that worked on ice cream packing machines in the Indiana/Ohio/West Virginia region. I remember several years that he logged over 100,000 miles of driving. Some truckers don’t log that many miles. No wonder he could sleep through a loud mower ripping up the carpeting in his living room.
Most of Joe’s naps would happen at very understandable moments, such as at night in front of the television or on Sunday during a sermon. I continue to be shocked that Joe never fell asleep while driving because driving always makes me sleepy. I have to stop every hour to stretch my legs and wake up my system. Unfortunately for Joe, if he fell asleep in the company of others, he was quickly aroused by those around him because Joe was a loud snorer. Imagine the snort coming from an angry grizzly bear mixed with the spouting of a huge blue whale and you can appreciate the sound that emanated from Joe’s snore.
Sometimes at home we’d all just let Joe sleep and us kids would all just laugh at the various sounds coming from Joe. There was this one time however when Joe fell asleep at a very inopportune moment of family time that still brings back a big smile to my face.
When my youngest sisters were attending Lincoln Elementary, there was some sort of music program going on in an effort to expose musically inclined kids to an opportunity to learn an instrument, (or else to torture parents the teachers did not like). My sister Lori took up the flute and actually got pretty good at it. There were several family evening moments spent listening to Lori perform a piece that she had been practicing on for days. (Sadly though, no Jethro Tull).
When my youngest sister Janelle got presented the same opportunity, she expressed an interest in learning to play the violin. Just as with Lori, I think my mom and Joe had to come up with a few bucks to purchase a cheap, used violin for Janelle. She attended her music classes and practiced her craft. We brothers and sisters got to hear the squeaking and screeching from that violin every night for several weeks while Joe had the benefit of being away on business, (just goes to show you don’t need a high school education to have intelligence – Joe knew when to stay away).
One weekend night after dinner and before bedtime, Janelle wanted to perform for us a piece she’d been ‘practicing’. Apparently, she was to perform this piece for her teacher, (or something to that effect), on Monday at school.
– I just remembered something cute and funny when I just now wrote the word ‘bedtime’. When our Brady Bunch family was formed, Mom and Joe labeled the three youngest of us as ” The Little Ones”. The Little Ones were Felix, Lori and Janelle. I think when Mom and Joe married, they were 6, 6 and 5 years of age. Younger kids needing more sleep than older ones, they were told to go to bed about an hour before the rest of us kids. Mom or Joe would announce, “Little Ones, bedtime”. At first, The Little Ones would all three quietly and obediently make their way up the steps but after a couple of years, they began to dislike being called “Little Ones”. They probably wouldn’t have minded it were it not for us older kids using it as a term for teasing. After The Little Ones’ bedtime would be announced, one or more of us older kids would egg on the little guys, constantly repeating that it was time for the Little Ones to get to bed. Felix was the worst and wanted desperately to be one of the older kids. Even if he was dead tired, he’d be the last to obey the command and often would be seen standing near a hall corner, staring blindly at the television. Joe would have to raise his voice and much to Felix’ dismay, he would eventually follow orders and make his way up the steps. (Typically when us older kids went to bed, Felix would be sound asleep, snoring like his dad, and the two little girls would be awake talking or giggling). “Little Ones….bedtime”.
But back to the youngest Little One, Janelle:
When Janelle asked to practice her violin piece for Joe and Mom, all of us kids pitched a fit in unison – “no way”, “it’s horrible”, “my ears will bleed”, “I have to go have a surgery”, or some other less painful experience. We kids had been hearing Janelle’s musical penchant and knew what Joe would be in for and truth be known, we were all just trying to protect his ears. He was, after all, the sole bread winner and we depended on his income to eat our bread.
Joe heavily protested though and demanded that we all sit patiently to listen to the Little One Janelle perform Mary Had a Little Lamb, (or whatever it was supposed to be that evening). “Everybody, we listened to Lori when she played the flute so now we’re all going to listen to Janelle!” That was good enough for me – where’s my seat?
This memory is so vivid in my mind that I can still see where Janelle stood and where we all sat and stood that evening. At one end of our little family circle was Janelle, standing on the wood flooring of the hallway in front of the closet Mom and Joe had built. At the other was Joe seated comfortably in a soft family room chair. Janelle began her performance by screeching out the first note…SCREECH……2-3……SCRATCH….2-3……SKWARK……
It was horrible. Each note must have lasted a full two seconds with a good 2-3 seconds in between each note, (and I’m using the term “note” here rather loosely). After what seemed like an hour but likely was only five minutes, instead of hearing the next note from Janelle’s violin, we heard…SNORE….SNORE…SNORE….
Indeed, Joe had fallen asleep. The man who insisted we all spend quality family time together supporting our baby sister, (and youngest of The Little Ones), practice her future concert solos, her best Vanessa-Mae or future Youtube performance….yes, this man had indeed fallen sound asleep and was in full tilt snoring mode. This was too good – we kids all started cracking up, laughing, cajoling, teasing, having a great time enjoying the fact that Joe had made us all suffer through the screeching and he had fallen asleep. We couldn’t believe it. I mean, we all knew he could sleep anywhere, but through that?
No one ever forgot about that evening. It’s one of the more classic Joe moments ever. Joe worked hard all his life. He never graduated high school, but joined the Navy instead. He married a Philippine and had five wonderful kids that he himself raised after divorcing his wife. Had he been more selective, he might not have remarried someone with four kids of her own, but Joe fell in love with my Mom and together, they took on the challenge of raising us nine kids and trying to provide a somewhat ‘normal’ upbringing environment for us all. Joe was a hell of a good man and role model for us boys. He worked hard, traveling 4-5 days week after week. No one, not even Janelle herself, had anything bad to say about Joe that night. If he wants to take a nap and wants to force the rest of us to suffer through an ear-bleeding, then damn it, that’s what we’ll do!
I don’t think I could repeat Joe’s actions. I can fall asleep pretty easily, but it takes a special man and a special talent to pull off the spectacular sleeping performance that Joe demonstrated that evening.
You’ve been dead now for more than 20 years Joe, but I still think of you often and many an instant goes by when I find myself thinking of you…..especially when I hear someone playing the violin. 😉