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Just Peachy

Aunt Jane’s House, 1949: By then I had a sort of radar that scanned people thoroughly to determine if they were a threat to me. I was always on the lookout because I fully understood that adults had two personalities. One when they were drunk (very dangerous), and another when they were sober (less dangerous).

But Jane seemed kindly, sympathetic, even a bit pleased that I was a new addition her family. She wasn’t moody and volatile like my father and uncle. Rather she resembled grandma, who fearlessly and confidently bossed people around. Her glasses were just like grandma’s: squarish lenses, no rims. Her belly was big and round underneath her flower covered housewife’s apron.

My father said he was late, he had to go back to the bar on Mahoning Avenue he and Alex had just bought, he just didn’t have time. She said, “You’ve always got a lot to do, right Chet?”

She lowered her voice and said something I couldn’t hear, and he flashed his dark, cutting eyes at her as he got out his wallet, counted some bills, handed them over. Then he went out the door, and walked rapidly to the car. It seemed to me he always was itching to go somewhere. I could tell when he was about to depart. His eyes would dart back and forth, and he’d look nervous. He couldn’t stay with me because he had ants in his pants.

Jane took my hand, led me down the hallway past a dining room on the left and a living room on the right, all the way to the back door, and down three steps to an enclosed porch. On the concrete floor was a quilt. Asleep on it were three kids: Howard Jr., Dennis, and Jane Emma.

“It’s nap time,” Jane said.

I had never taken naps, it seemed to me strange, a waste of time. I wasn’t sleepy, I was wide awake, eager to explore this new place. But Jane repeated that I had to take a nap.

“Understand? That’s the rule.”

So I flopped face down, and closed my eyes, imitating the other unconscious kids. Jane went up the steps, and back into the house. I smelt peaches. I looked around. There was a wet spot beside me on the quilt, and under a fold was a slimy gnarled peach seed. Apparently before naps, Jane gave her kids peaches.

Where, I wondered, was mine?

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I am still struggling to understand this American thing about naps. Nobody has yet managed to explain to me satisfactorily why American children are expected to take them right up to the age of five, and why so many American adults either take them or wish they had the chance to take them.

As far as I'm concerned, sleeping during the day is something you do if you're really ill. Otherwise, it messes up your sleep at night. Why are Americans so different? Don't they go to bed at a sensible time?

That's a good question!

The fact is, despite my always getting a good night's sleep, I invariably take a half hour nap around noon. Have done this nearly every day since I begain my career as a journalist three or four decades ago. I always awaken refreshed, ready to continue.

I can't speak for others, however. I don't know if this is particularly an American thing or more universal.

It's just not something that tends to happen in this country. We've always thought my dad was really unusual because of his habit of nodding off at odd times. (He doesn't plan to. It just happens, and then he vigorously denies it. He once managed to fall asleep in the middle of a very loud symphony concert, to everyone's astonishment and Mum's absolute horror. She had to stick her elbow into him to wake him up before he snored.) These days he's in his eighties and so it isn't so strange, but as far as we know he's done it all his life.

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