Elephants At The Kitchen Window

My wife Paulette was reading awhile back about where you grow while you’re asleep.  “If that’s so,” she said, “I should be nine and a half feet tall.”

Paulette is one of the world’s great sleepers.  Now, I don’t mean that she sleeps all the time.  She gets eight good hours, and then she’s up and rearing to go.  When she’s awake, she’s a real dynamo – great wife, tireless worker.  But when she sleeps, brother, she sleeps.  Rip Van Winkle could take lessons.

I heard one fellow say that there are two kinds of sleepers in the world: light sleepers and heavy sleepers.  In any marriage, there’s likely to be one of each.  If two of the same kind marry, one of them will change, especially if both are heavy sleepers.  No marriage can succeed without one light sleeper.  After all, somebody in the marriage has to hear those things that go bump in the night – like elephants trying to get in the kitchen window.

I don’t know how heavy sleepers get to be that way, but my friend Delbert Earle says it’s all because of something he calls the Immutable Theory of Energy.  I think it’s a notion he got out of Popular Mechanics years ago.  Delbert Earle believes that we are all born with a certain amount of energy, and that we spend our lives using it up.  He says we can’t get any more than we originally had, but we can control how fast we use what we do have.

Delbert Earle says he is a heavy sleeper because he is conserving his energy.  He has finally convinced his wife not to wake him up when she hears elephants coming in the kitchen window.  She takes care of it herself.  So far, none have gotten in -- or at least that’s what Delbert Earle thinks; after all, he’s been asleep.  He has found no elephant tracks in the sink.

We light sleepers – Delbert Earle’s wife and I among them -- are guardians of home and hearth.  But I suspect the heavy sleepers will outlive us and be happier in the process.

Just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap.

The Girl He Couldn't Do Without

They’re honeymooning at the beach – our young friend and the girl he couldn’t do without.

It’s a piece of advice my mother gave me when I was single, dating this girl and that one, occasionally bringing one home to meet the parents.  “Marry the one you can’t do without,” Mother said, and I took her advice to heart.  When things began to look a trifle serious with a young lady, I would ask myself, “Could I do without this one?” In every case but the last one, I could.  Then I met Paulette.  We’ve been married for 46 years.  I couldn’t do without her back then, and I can’t now.

I suppose it’s a tough yardstick to use when you’re considering a relationship that could become a lifetime.  But as mother said, if you choose someone you could do without, the odds are you eventually will.  Better to be tough going in than tough coming out.  Better a broken heart when a relationship is in its infancy than when it’s over.

So Paulette and I joined the crowd of friends and family in a rural Baptist church in south Alabama last weekend to see John and Candy begin a life together.  The way they looked into each other’s eyes as they stood before the preacher and said their vows told us they’ve chosen the ones they can’t do without, and that bodes well for a long life together.

There are times in any marriage when things seem to be coming apart at the seams.  It’s easy to just walk away.  But if the person on the other side of the conflict is the one you just can’t do without, you’ll make the extra effort to work things out and keep the partnership together.

I thought about my mother’s advice a lot when I was writing my new novel The Governor’s Lady which comes out in September.  There’s a marriage at the heart of it, and there a point where Cooper and Pickett have to face the essential question: can they do without each other?

Every good story needs a dilemma at its heart.  How the characters respond to the dilemma tells us who they are and how the story unfolds.  How this one unfolds will have to wait for September.