In Baltimore City
“I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.”
– Robert Frost
Policemen walk a beat and work shift work, I have known this since birth. After dinner was cleared away, Dad would put on his uniform, strap his gun in its holster, and leave for the station. He worked over in West Baltimore, which has never been the best neighborhood in the city. None of us ever told him to be careful, we only said see you tomorrow. These nights were exciting times for me. I was allowed to stay up all night. How great was that?
I was about four years old. As all my little friends were being bathed and put to bed, I was getting my hair done and watching Fred MacMurray shoot Barbara Stanwyck on television. Mom and I would drink Cokes, play checkers and watch the late show, the late, late show and finally, the late, late, late show. After The Star Spangled Banner played and the screen hummed with static, Mom would play her Connie Francis records.
Mom would sew and iron while I colored in books or played dolls. The goal each night was to be awake when Dad came home so that I would sleep the same times Dad slept. I never missed one morning, even on the days Mom fell asleep in her chair. I could stay awake longer than anyone. I liked the night, the quietness, the stars, the empty street where the only sound was the whistle of an oncoming train.
This plan worked for us for a few years but, like most things, it came to an end before we were prepared. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was playing outside with a girl named Diane. We decided it would be fun to have a race. She was on skates and I was pushing a big baby buggy with a few dolls tucked inside. Her brother called out to get ready and get set. By the time he yelled “go” we were gone. Unfortunately for me, one of our neighbors chose that moment to walk outside. I swerved to avoid her, sending my buggy in the gutter and me, head over heels, across the top of it. It resulted in a victory for Diane and a cast for me. Dad had just left for work. He missed my crash.
The weeks of staying awake all night did not serve me well when I had to stay in Children’s Hospital. I stayed there after having a few surgeries on my arm. Dad was still on night shift, and so was I. One by one each nurse came to my bed to coax me to sleep. They brought me warm milk, read me stories, and even threatened to tell the doctor on me. Nothing could convince me to go to sleep. They gave up and wheeled me into the nurse’s station where I watched Robert Mitchum movies until the next shift of nurses arrived. Dad came to the hospital in the morning , and only then was I able to go to sleep. Once I was home, our shift work changed. Dad was promoted to Detective and worked more regular hours. The following fall I went to kindergarten and my sister was born. No more movies or Cokes at three am.
Many years later Dad lived with me. He had been diagnosed with dementia and never really slept through the night anymore. I would go and sit in his room and we would drink Cokes or coffee and watch John Wayne movies. Some nights I would do my ironing. There were times when Dad would fall asleep in his chair, but I always could stay awake longer. When the sun would begin its climb, Dad would open his eyes and tell me to go to sleep. Our shift was over.
I absolutely love reading your posts. Thanks for sharing this.
What a beautiful post!
I can only imagine the thoughts going through your mother’s mind while she stayed awake waiting for your dad to come home. Prayers to keep him safe, maybe?
My mother was a bit of a night owl. (Looking back, I don’t think she ever slept well.) I always liked to stay up late with her–especially when I was in high school. We’d watch the Tonight Show and then Tom Snyder together.
PS, I had that same doll, except mine had dark hair!
Thanks for reading! I continue to be a night owl. Old habits die hard! Do you still have your doll? I do. It was one of the items rescued from the fire when my Dad’s house burned several years ago.
I don’t remember what happened to the doll, but it’s long gone. It may have been passed on to a cousin or my niece.
I’m a night owl who forces herself to be an early bird. Sometimes it works.
Kim, thank you for this beautiful story. What an interesting life you led. You made me tear up.
Sherry, I feel that I write for you more than anyone else. I am so happy that you enjoy my stories.
Gosh, now I’m really going to cry! Your stories are special, Kim.
Oh, Kim, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Thank you Edith! I feel that our group has heard these same stories more than once. I am glad you still enjoy them!
My gosh you were a gorgeous child! I don’t think I have heard this story before. It’s beautiful and affecting. I am a night owl, too. I think as I child I believed that everything interesting in the world happened after I was put to bed. Now you have validated that belief.
Because the topic is parent and child and being up all night. I have to put a plug here for my friend Maria Mutch’s book Know the Night which will be released on March 25 in the US. (It’s already available in Canada.)
Here’s the blurb.
For about 2 years, Maria Mutch’s son Gabriel, who is severely autistic and has Down’s syndrome, slept very little. In her incisive and poetic memoir, Maria shares the intensely personal challenges and revelations brought about by this period.
As a baby, Gabriel’s first words and affinity for sign language enthralled his adoring parents. When these words fell away, and his medical diagnoses multiplied, Maria committed herself entirely to Gabe’s care. As his sleeping hours dwindled, care took place within an isolated, wakeful, often frightening world, in which Maria’s desire for connection and meaning expanded. She became fascinated with stories of Antarctic exploration, and found a companion in Admiral Richard Byrd, an explorer who lived by himself in the polar darkness for months in 1934 and later wrote about his struggle for survival in a book called Alone. Re-imagining Byrd’s story and interweaving it with her own, Maria illuminates a search for love and understanding against the terrors of the unknown that will resonate with anyone who has lain awake in the dark, or longed to protect a loved one. Jazz has a calming, entrancing effect on Gabe, and it provides a rare link for them to the outer world.
Know the Night is a powerful journey into the mysteries of the night and the human mind, and a testament to the extraordinary bond between mother and child
I may need to stay up to read this book!!
Kim, this post is so beautiful… it made me cry. The work of a police officer and family love is a topic close to me and my extended family of cousins. One uncle shot and killed in the line of duty in Boston prompted a togetherness and support through the following generations that involved many in the family to become officers. Shift work, indeed… changes everything in family structure and the patterns of love.
Reine, I am glad you liked my story, and I am so very sorry for the loss of your uncle. Our world needs more people who are devoted to the safety of others. We have been lucky to know and love these dedicated men.
Kim – so awesome. Love your stories. I think I’ve said this before, but they remind me of my grandfather. Sniff.
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