I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord for a BOOK to take.
When I die I want to take along a book, but not just any old book. It has to be 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 had an inkling I was about to journey to the great beyond. I want to see the words, “The End,” after which I’ll 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 to me until I fell asleep so 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 o’clock fully charged and ready to take on a busy schedule. Since age began 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 Over Sixty friends, have also developed sleep issues. 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 who the one in question is: it’s the one that always makes it to Slumberland in record time. No doubt there have been moments laced 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 somebody, and on and on in an exhaustive account of who gave birth to whom and why they all ended up as cousins. If I find myself fighting insomnia, and if reading the long list of begats fails to transport me into a comatose state, well … somebody should just shoot me. (But make sure I leave the building with a book!)
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 all the 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 brain. I just hope and pray I won’t be going farther South to that other place even hotter than a Dixie summer.
“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 do my best to climb Jacob’s Ladder with the words of Nora Ephron, Flannery O’Connor or Margaret Atwater giving me the boost I need.
If all goes as it should, I will arrive grinning like the humorist I strive to be and clutching a much loved, dog-eared Golden Book in my hands.
“Hey,” I’ll say to my treasured muses. “Did y’all ever read, The Pokey Little Puppy?”