Giving Thanks In The Middle Of The Night

A Memoir

By Don Beaudreau

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thank you

Believing my father’s wisdom when he defined “home” as “the place they have to take you in, whether or not they like it” I plopped myself upon the mercies of my paterfamilias and his newly extended family. My mother had died shortly before.

In addition to my father and me, the new household consisted of an 89-year-old matriarch, her unmarried 60-something daughter, the daughter’s some-kind-of-a boyfriend who came to visit one night 25 years before and never left, a mute (thank God!) Myna bird, various genetically mutated canines named Leo, Bo Bo, Brownie, and Zsa Zsa, and a bald-headed robin. Granny, the daughter, and the boyfriend all lived on the main floor. My father and I lived in the basement. The animals lived anywhere in the house they wanted to, as did an extended family of roaches!

And it seemed to me that during my nine-month stay anything breathing in that domicile had her or his own television, almost like everyone living with an extra body part. Certainly, the cacophony of the household was apparent to anyone passing on the street.

To say the least, for me the experience was a learning one. For one thing, I learned that I don’t like to live with lots of breathing things, although I might very well like these same things when I see them at the mall, in church, or (as in the case of the muted myna and bald-headed robin) on the wing and out-of-doors!

It had been difficult enough for me to have two parents and one brother. In fact, to this day I compare my relationship with my sibling to the one stated by the title of Jean Kerr’s book: My Brother Was an Only Child.

So there I was with an extended family that I would not have chosen. But having no money, or any immediate way to make any, I joined the menagerie thankfully, although not particularly joyfully.

My space was less rambling than that allowed the animals or insects. Because Granny slept in the bedroom that had been mine when I was a kid, I was relegated to the basement storeroom, although at that point, the entire house was a storeroom. Even the bugs had extra baggage.

My new “bedroom” included a dozen or so 1930’s suits which my father hadn’t the heart to part with. They hung here and there from the rafters, like the ghosts of Chicago gangsters. There was an infinity of other articles of used clothing stuffed in whatever space was available – all moldering in the dankness of this subterranean closet I called my “sleeping quarters.” Boxes and barrels of unknown items were precariously stacked up to the ceiling. Because my dad was a self-employed salesman, he stored sundry merchandise here – all waiting to be sold, some of it having waited for years in this cave of miscellany: toy bears now graying from the ageless dust of this prison house, inflatable Santas waiting for the next Christmas, fake jewelry sporting inflated price tags. There was one tiny, stuck window at ground level that I could never open. Plunged into its various cracks were old socks to keep out the winter, although there was just enough visibility for me to see Leo, Bo Bo, Brownie, and Zsa Zsa relieving themselves on those rare occasions when they left their TV soap operas.

My bed was an old mattress on top of one half of an even older Ping-Pong table. I had to climb onto a metal trunk in order to get into bed. Once there, I had to be careful not to hit the pipe directly over me. A deep sleeper (once I’m asleep), neither pipe nor rockets’ red glare can disturb me, so I thought nothing of having a pipe connecting to Granny’s personal toilet just a few inches away from my head.

Until one memorable night. It was 3:00 a.m. when people, dogs, birds, roaches and even thieves are asleep – but not Granny. That’s because Granny just had to “go” – if you know what I mean. Maybe Granny had “gone” before at this bewitching hour, but I never had heard her. But this time: whoosh! went the toilet, causing me to bolt upright a la jack-in-the-box whose time had come to spring. Hitting my head on Granny’s metal underbelly (so to speak), I simultaneously collapsed the Ping-Pong table, causing me to cascade into a multitude of inflatable Santas.

My yelp woke the dogs who began to yap, thereby doing their duty in warning the neighborhood of an approaching apocalypse. Human noises followed: grunts and “oh-my-Gods” and here and there a “shut up you mutts” coming from a somewhat- relieved Granny. Even the robin screeched her anger at being awakened at a most deadly hour. Still, no word was uttered from Mr. Myna. It was at this point that I realized the only thing I could do was laugh. And I did so uproariously – sitting there in the pitch-blackness, amidst the plastic St. Nicks, with the ghost of Al Capone joining in the merriment.

I laughed at how wonderful it was to have any roof over my head where people I did not always understand, but loved nevertheless, shared the same roof. Where we could experience a moment together, a ludicrous piece of eternity in a world which often forgets to be appreciative.

I realized in the darkness what it meant to be part of a family. To sometimes be uncomfortable: to hear flushing toilets and barking dogs; to bicker and bellow. To sometimes be quite invigorated: to laugh your way to the stars and share deep moments; to have people around who are trustworthy and respectful of you.

Now they all have gone the way of princes and paupers – even the Myna has flown to a distant shore, but that family still lives with me, deep inside and they come alive again whenever I remember them.

Family – whatever it means to you – may you and your family serve each other well. Life is too fleeting not to accept family wherever you can find them, even in the middle of the night.

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