Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Story's Story: Why I tuck the sheet under my feet

First a disclaimer:  I remember the gist of things.  If someone tells me that Jeff walked into the Diesel Cafe and ordered an espresso, I might store that sequence as "a guy walks into a bar and orders a drink".

When a stranger tells me a story about their life, my brain takes what it hears and processes it through a weird gist filter.  If I run into that stranger again, even if it's years and years later, I will have no problem recollecting most, if not all, aspects of the story that moved the plot forward.  But heaven forbid I remember any of the details most people consider essential; Visual descriptions, locations, dates, or character names are all lost on me.  And, what?  Did the stranger have a name, too?

My dad is not the most talkative man in the world.  But as the daughter that followed him around passing him tools as he fixed things around the house, went with him on his daily walks, and kept him company whenever he ran errands, I was often lucky enough to be within earshot on those rare occasions a story escaped from wherever he normally kept them.

The stories my father shared with me were told as anecdotes, told as if he or his father witnessed them firsthand.

This particular story has had a significant impact on my life, as in it changed me forever
When my grandfather was younger, travel often required cutting through large tracts of private property.  When you were ready to call it an evening, you would ask the land owner or a ranch hand for permission to stay the night.  If you were lucky, they might have a lean-to you could use for shelter.

On one particular trip, my grandfather lucked out.  The landowner had a free standing guest "house" (a shed with a single bed perhaps) that he could use.  He was shown to the room and, as the landowner bid him goodnight, was told "It's okay if you leave the light on overnight."

That was unheard of, it was so wasteful.  My grandfather thought nothing of it as he crawled into bed and, ready for a good night's sleep, turned off the lights.

The moment the room went dark, my grandfather felt a tug at his big toe.  Immediately jumping out of bed, he turned the light back on and began to look for the culprit.  Under the bed: nothing.  In the closet, below the sink, right outside the door: nothing!

Thinking it was his imagination, he crawled back into bed and turned the light back off.  Sure enough, the moment it got dark, he felt another tug at his toe.

For full effect and timed perfectly, my father would tug playfully at my elbow.  Yikes!  "What did he do then, dad?", I would ask, a little afraid things would end differently with this telling.  I still remember the delight in his voice that was evident in his answer, "He slept with the light on, mija." 

I have tucked my sheets securely under my feet ever since I first heard this story.  What started off as a scheme for leaving no room for anything mysterious to reach my toes undetected has turned into a necessary routine for recreating a foot snugness I now rely on for sleep.  I'm pretty sure this will remind me of my father for the rest of my life.

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