Little Jimmy Dickens, the late classic country music star from Bolt, W.Va., sang old-style country music since the beginning of that genre as we know it. In fact, when Dickens first began performing in 1938, there were people listening to him who had been alive during the Civil War.
He was well-known for a novelty song, “Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” a song he loudly sang on the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night for years:
“Did you ever sleep at the foot of the bed when the weather was a whizzin’ cold?
When the wind was a whistlin’ round the house and the moon was yellow as gold?
You give your good one mattress up to Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Fred.
Too many kinfolks on a bad night so you went to the foot of the bed.”
Our recent spell of heat and high humidity reminded me of that song and the fact that I also slept at the foot of the bed, not in wintertime, but in the dead of summer.
When I grew up in Port William during the 1950s, our family lived in a two-story house with no air-conditioning. We didn’t know any differently, we thought everyone lived that way. Maybe not Milton Berle, but the people we knew did.
In the summer, when it became stifling hot as it did this past week, I became innovative. My sister, Rita, had a bedroom window that opened onto the roof of the house. When she wasn’t home, I would slip out onto our roof to watch the stars and cool down a bit.
The rooftop was a wonderful place to be at night. The moon was full, the farmers were returning home from the mills, the town was fast asleep, and the sky was bright as day.
The stars were twinkling across the cornfields, and in the distance I could see Maynard and Marie Beam’s home that was under construction on Sabina Road. Just in front of their home sat the many huge earthmovers along the piles of dirt that soon would become Interstate 71.
“Daddy, Pat’s on the roof again,” Rita would shout to my dad when she returned from her night out. He always made me come back inside.
One summer evening when I was about 6 or 7 years old, during a particularly oppressive heat wave, I went downstairs and told my mother I couldn’t sleep. “It’s too hot,” I pronounced.
“Why don’t you sleep at the foot of the bed?” she replied. “It will be cooler.”
I ran back upstairs, grabbed my pillow and jumped to the end of the bed. “What are you doing?” my brother, Jack, asked.
“Mom said for me to sleep at the foot of the bed. She said it will be cooler,” I responded.
Jack smiled as he said, “OK. Goodnight.”
I remember feeling cooler at once, and within a minute or two fell fast asleep.
Some might think my mother was using psychology on her young son by making him think it was cooler at the foot of the bed. Research later proved her correct.
According to Natalie Dautovitch, a spokesperson for the National Sleep Foundation and a psychology professor at the University of Alabama, “An excellent way of cooling down is to move away from the head of the bed prior to sleep when we’ve gotten too warm to sleep,” Dautovitch said. “Sticking your toe out or your foot out could bring you to a more restorative sleep.”
Time moves on and Little Jimmy Dickens is gone now, but along with sleep he had a profound interest in food and wrote another song that I could relate to as well.
“When I was a little boy around the table at home,
I remember very well when company would come,
I would have to be right still until the whole crowd ate,
My mama always said to me take an old cold tater and wait.”
Rudyard Kipling reminds us in his poem entitled “If,” when he said, “We must wait and not be tired by waiting.”
Or as Saint Matthew said, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Kipling and Saint Matthew, as well as Little Jim, might be on to something. Indeed.
Pat Haley is former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.