On a trip to Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, I loved touring old homes, taverns, government buildings, and shops and learning about everyday life in the 1700s. One of the fascinating tidbits I learned on a tour of a historic inn was that centuries ago when a man checked in, he was simply renting a space in a bed. There were often many beds in a room and an inn guest had no say over who he slept with.
In my early childhood, my family operated under a similar system. Grandmother figured out sleeping arrangements and as long as everyone had a pillow, a quilt, and a soft spot to rest, it worked and no one complained.
Make up a double bed sideways and three granddaughters fit just fine. Once you take the cushions off the pull-out sofa, you tuck them into a twin-size fitted sheet and lay quilts on top; that makes a perfect pallet for one of the grandsons. Pallets could be tucked anywhere: between a bed and a wall, under a dining room table, or (in hot weather) on the screened porch.
When our house was going to be full of guests, Mother sometimes borrowed a rollaway bed. One time the house was so full of company there was not even room to set up the borrowed rollaway bed. So Daddy set it up in the fellowship hall at the church. After everyone else was in bed, Mother and Daddy took a flashlight and padded through the sand to sleep in the church building. The plan was for them to get up early enough to be back at the house cooking breakfast before anyone even knew they were gone. The plan almost worked. However, I was really little and when I woke up in the night I wanted my Mother and no one else would do. One of our guests–teenaged Rhonda Basford–bravely carried me through the nighttime forest to get me to where my Mother was.
Uncle Byron and his family surprised us one weekend. No one knew they were coming and the whole family had already gone to bed when they arrived. Tom, the light sleeper of the family heard them drive up. He was a teenager and he quickly took charge of sleeping arrangements. He put Susan in my bed with me. He quietly made up the sofa for Uncle Byron and Aunt Iris then he fixed a place for little Stevie. He had just put Lamar in his own bed and was trying to figure out where he would sleep when my Mother woke up. An expert at sleeping arrangements, Mother said, “I’ll crawl in with the girls, you go sleep with your Daddy.” That plan worked fine until Daddy, unaware of the all the activity that had taken place since he went to bed, rolled over and put his arm around the warm body he thought was his wife.
For many years, breakfast table conversations at family gatherings focused on who snored, who kicked, who hogged covers, and who talked in their sleep.
All that changed in the late 1970s. Maybe we were part of a larger cultural shift or maybe we just got a little more sophisticated when we got older. But no one expects to have to sleep with cousins any more. Now when we get together, some people might actually stay at a nearby hotel. And the catalyst for the change in sleeping arrangements in our family can be traced back to one person: Gail Taquino Estes and my big brother’s love for her.
As the oldest grandchild on both sides of our family, Don carried a lot of clout in the family—still does. He is quiet and doesn’t say much, so when he does speak up it’s usually important and people pay attention. Shortly after Don married Gail and turned her into the first granddaughter-in-law, life changed for the whole clan.
The family was gathered at Grandmother and PawPaw’s house and, as always, Grandmother had figured out sleeping arrangements. Her plan was for my Mother and Daddy to have the guest room; Gail would sleep with me on one of the pull-out sofas and Don and Tom would share the other one.
When Don heard the plan, he revolted. He cornered Grandmother and quietly but firmly said, “Now listen. I don’t want to cause trouble, but I didn’t get married to still have to sleep with my brother.”
Without another word, Grandmother changed the sleeping arrangements.