Celestine Sibley’s last column, published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 25, 1999
There’ll come a night when you can’t sleep. It has to do with doctors and pills and trips to the drugstore, and you pull up the cover and turn on all the lights in your room, and stack up books you may or may not want to read. But you can’t sleep.
On such a night it’s wonderful if you have a screened-in back porch.
Bats and things bam against the screens. Cats stick their paws into whatever cracks they can find and make insistent pleas to get inside.
But you don’t let them. You pull up a chair, turn a cushion hoping to reverse the wet side so it won’t ruin your last dry nightgown, and you wonder what it was you used to think about when nights were made for sleeping and you didn’t dwell at all on illness and medicines.
Food used to be the antidote for sleepless nights. I tried that the other night. My young kinswoman Faith had arrived with a Key lime pie, which we stuck so far back in the refrigerator that we forgot about it.
Key lime, I thought, beach pie. They make it down at Julia Mae’s near our house on Dog Island. It’s not as good as the coconut, but it’s good, and at midnight, who’s choosy? The trouble is that you stumble a bit fishing it out of the refrigerator, and Key lime has a tendency to slither, but sooner or later you and it are anchored in the swing and the creaking of the swing chains seems to soothe.
You think over the books that await you upstairs, but - like the pie - they are not as seductive as you thought. Tiresome murders, even a history or two that ordinarily would appeal, but nothing hair-raising, or even cover raising.
On such a night when the weather turns cool, it’s good to have that extra piece of cover handy. Old quilts are intended for such a night. When they are old and faded and almost weightless, you pull them up and remember the women who made them and the families they “kivvered” with them.
You might even, if you have a sudden and unprecedented burst of energy, pick up a needle and thread and mend a raveling hem or replace a ragged patch. But better to sit in the dark and listen to the night noises, the whippoorwill down in the woods, the crickets by the corn crib, the settling and stirring of the rain-soaked earth.
You wonder why you can’t sleep. It’s not a normal weakness. It’s the kind of thing that happens when your life seems out of kilter. Family has gathered. Beds are all filled. Table is set for breakfast. It doesn’t seem normal or reassuring.
You try to think of mundane necessities. Are there enough clean towels to go around? Instead, you ask yourself what the doctor meant when he said …? Why did the druggist think the high cost of pills had eased off a bit? He said … .
What do you care what they said? It’s time to totter up the stairs and get back into bed. It’s time not to care if towels run out or some of the family simply hates eggs for breakfast.
Presently, there are headlights cruising over the tops of the trees by the driveway. The youngest grandson has come home. In a little while, another will be heard from —- time to start to town for a workaday job. My dog yawns. The cats take a final swipe at the unopening screen door. The Key lime pie has slipped and fallen somewhere between the wing cushions.
There always have been nights when you couldn’t sleep. My mother once told me, as we sat on the porch on Penn Avenue one rainy night, that we couldn’t get out of anything by dying. “The women in our family live forever, ” she remarked dismally.
We do, and come to think of it, that’s not such a bad outlook. Bed and books and a spare quilt suddenly seem mighty attractive.
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