I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray my soul a book to take.
I don't want to take along just any old book. I want it to be the one with an ending so strong that it stopped my ticker for good. The book would have to tell a story compelling enough that I couldn’t put it down until I'd read the last page, especially if I even had an inkling that I was about to journey to the great beyond. I want to see the words, “The End,” and then close the book and do a bad imitation of Porky Pig saying, “Ebity ebity … that’s All, Folks!
Reading in bed has been a nocturnal habit of mine since the day I learned to make sense out of sentences. When Mama threw away my pacifier, I latched onto a soon-to-become dog-eared Golden Book, The Pokey Little Puppy. Mama read it aloud until I fell asleep and that's the reason substituting a book for a pacifier became a lifelong habit. When I was younger, I would read until two or three o’clock in the morning and still wake up at seven fully charged and ready to take on a busy schedule. Since age has begun to creep up on me, however, I consider it a major achievement to knock out two or three chapters before fading into the abyss of sleep.
Many of my After Fifty friends, have developed sleep issues over the years. They often complain to me that they either cannot get to sleep or they wake up in the middle of the night and find it impossible to get back to sleep. When this happens, they slip out of bed and stumble around in the dark so as not to disturb the one snoring next to them. We all know the one in question: the one that always makes it to Slumberland in record time. No doubt there have been moments with strong desires to murder the one in question, but on advice of counsel, I respectively take the Fifth.
I am not an insomniac, but if I were and if I did not keep a tall stack of books on my bedside table awaiting my nocturnal pacification, I might choose to grab my Bible and open it to the book of Genesis where the history of mankind has been duly documented. Adam begat Seth, who begat Enos, who begat Cainan, and on and on in an exhaustive account of who gave birth to whom and who ended up being kin to whom. If I find myself fighting insomnia, and if reading the long list of begats fails to put me in a coma, I hope somebody will just shoot me.
But I hope to meet my maker just after finishing a great novel. I will willingly exchange my earthly bed for an eternal four-poster after reading a work of Nora Ephron. With her humorous words floating just outside the brink of my brain, how could I not go happily to that Big Humor Writer’s Conference in the Sky?
I could also be content to make my exit holding onto the words of Rick Bragg. I am okay making the trip way up North while hanging onto words from a good ol’ boy because I am Southern to the bone. I could easily drift off to Forever Land with Bragg’s sentences rebounding on the walls of my mind. I just hope and pray I won’t be going too far South to that other place even hotter than Dixie.
“My people tell their stories of vast red fields and bitter turnip greens and harsh white whiskey like they are rocking in some invisible chair, smooth and easy even in the terrible parts, because the past has already done its worst. The joys of this Southern life, we polish like old silver. If words more precious to any Southerner have ever been written, I have yet to read them. Thank you, Rick Bragg.
At this point in my life, I have no immediate plans to read myself into the Big Sleep, but one of these nights I suspect I will finally climb Jacob’s Ladder with the words of Nora Ephron, Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty giving me the boost I will most likely need. I hope to arrive grinning like the humorist I strive to be while clutching a much loved, dog-eared Golden Book in my hands.
“Hey,” I plan to say to my three treasured muses. “Have y’all ever read, The Pokey Little Puppy?”