“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night–Good Lord, deliver us.”
OOLD HABITS DIE HARD. Who has not heard that hoary saw? Whether it’s always so, I don’t know, but I do know that certain habits that I formed while sharing a bed with my brother Charles when we were kids became SO much a part of me, that I simply ceased to notice their presence in my nightly rituals.
In our shared bedroom on Warren Avenue, the left side of the bed faced the door that led into the hall and then to the stairs that led to the first floor. Since I was the oldest, I claimed the left side of the bed.
It gave me a beeline to that door, and I could therefore exit faster when the things-who-dare-not-be-named-that-lurk-in-the-closet and their even more frightening brethren under the bed made their presence known. You know, those things that only come into existence at night and scare the crap out of kids everywhere . . .
(Bump. What’s that?)
As further precaution against those nameless creatures, my brother and I slept with our backs pressed together in the center of the bed. The foot or so that remained on the two sides that were between us and a fall from the bed to the floor was a sort of no-man’s-land.
As long as we kept the blanket over ourselves and no-man’s land, we were safe!
Defensive measures were taken every night
Two other defensive measures were a part of our preparations for bed: we always turned our pillows so that the open end of the pillow cases faced inward. That left no open end facing out and tempting the monsters to crawl up the bed and into our pillow!
We also positioned ourselves as close to the headboard as possible: feet hanging over the end of the bed was also far too tempting to the lurkers under the bed.
(Bump, bump shooosh. It’s moving!)
The closet was also on my side of the bed, so it’s not like I wasn’t taking chances. I mean, on Charles’ side of the bed were just two windows looking down onto the front porch roof and then onto the street.
He was fairly safe, as, for reasons we never understood, the monsters NEVER entered from the outside. So, in hindsight, I guess you could say that I was being heroic by taking the left side of the bed, seeing to my little brother’s well-being.
Sort of . . .
Anyway, the closet was, you know, a closet. Open the door and it was four feet deep and four feet across. There was the usual bar at head height (I was always tall) holding our clothes and there was lots of room on the floor for shoes and boxes of stuff our parents stored there.
The scary thing about our closet was that it was wider than its door. That left a foot or so of closet to the right of the door that was MUCH creepier than the rest of the closet.
And that’s where THEY lived.
Of course . . .
We’re picking up bad vibrations
Now, know you that in all the years that we shared that bed and that room, neither Charles nor I ever actually saw a ghost or a ghoul or anything else that could go bump in the night and that threaten our sanity, if not our very safety.
But—and here’s the operative aspect of the situation—we could feel them. We could feel their presence, their bad, bad, bad vibrations. Sometimes, we thought we could hear them.
(Bump, bump shooosh.
Bump, bump shooosh. Uh oh . . .)
Well, I am happy to report that both Umphred boys survived their years of terror. But, I was not left unscarred: it was not until I was in my thirties that I became aware that I still turned my pillows so that the open end of the casings faced inward. When I finally became aware of this, I was sleeping on a large futon on the floor of my house on 500 Tokay Lane in St. Helena.
As I had no bed for there to be an “under the bed,” I daringly took to turning my pillows open-end out! It was invigorating!
Also, futons on the floor do not have headboards, so there was no unconscious need to press my head in that direction.
There was still the matter of my feet, which were so used to lying atop a softish surface that I didn’t really consider any need to alter that part of my sleeping pattern.
In my forties, I discovered that I actually LIKED sleeping with my feet hanging over the end of the mattress or futon! (As long as they were covered by a sheet.) I had been liberated from my neurotic childhood fears and trepidations!
And it all just . . . happened!
(Bump, bump shooosh.
Bump, bump shooosh.
Bump, bump shooosh. I think it’s getting closer.)
Remembering Butch, who bit our toes
So, what brought about this ridiculous reverie that made me undertake this pointless exercise in keyboard pecking? (And fifty years after my first manual typewriter and Goddess only knows how many bloody words put to paper or screen, I still type with two fingers. In the US, it’s called “hunt-and-peck” typing; in Europe, “Eagle typing.”)
Here’s what happened: yesterday, a memory popped into my head about my childhood. This is somewhat unusual for me: I moved from the East Coast to the West in 1978 and have therefore been cut off from the sights sounds smells vibes of my hometown and its environs.
This is important: if you have never lived far from your roots—lived so far away that you rarely see those roots—memories become foggy, intermittent. They often take lengthy sabbaticals. During a telephone conversation with a friend or family member who shares your past, or when you go back for a visit, there is a little jar to the memory and distant events pop up unexpectedly. But I digress . . .
B and I recently adopted a 4-month old kitten, our first pet in years. Its entertaining antics stirred parts of my brain that I thought had calcified and I remembered something funny from my childhood. I immediately emailed this question to my brother: “Remember when Butch used to climb into our bed in the morning and bite our toes through the covers?”
Butch was a creamsicle-colored tomcat who liked biting little boy’s toes almost as much as he liked fighting with the other neighborhood toms. I hadn’t thought of Butch—who had always been my favorite childhood pet—in years! But, thinking of him nibbling my toes led to thinking about NOT letting my toes hang out over the end of the bed, which led to pillow cases, which led to they-whose-names-cannot be-spoken, which led to this exercise in nostalgia!
(And I’m not gonna get into how Aunt Judy scared the crap out of Charles and Neal and little sister MaryAlice when she was out babysitter!)
And remember: old habits die hard bump shooosh bump shooosh . . .
HEADER IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page s from William Castle’s House On Haunted Hill (1959) with the inimitable Vincent Price. I have included a second photo from the same movie (below); it is perhaps the best portrait of Price the actor that we will ever have.
NOTE: The lines at the top of this page apparently make up a very brief traditional Scottish prayer against harm. The earliest use of the phrase in modern print is from the Bulletin Of The School Oriental And African Studies (1918): “To a people [who] believe in genii, ghosts, goblins, and those terrific things that go ‘bump in the night,’ protective charms are eagerly sought for.” Again apparently, the author here assumed a familiarity with the phrase of his readers. (The Phrase Finder)