from GOODNIGHT, CHET
By Alison Brantley
Kate and I had a problem. We could not stop talking at bedtime. Dad’s admonishments were so frequent we knew we had to do something before he would take charge and separate us, which would be the worst thing, making us sleep in different rooms.
Our room was right next to the master bedroom. No matter how quiet we tried to be Mom and Dad could hear us. After a giggling fit would get too loud, Dad would pop his head into the room and say, “That’s a nickel off your allowance! Now go to sleep!” We’d be quiet for a few minutes, but then we’d start again. And again Dad would lean into the room and say, “That’s a dime off your allowance!” But it didn’t matter. We couldn’t help ourselves. This is how we went to sleep; we talked to each other.
So we had a problem. We didn’t want to keep losing our allowance; that meant no Saturday afternoon movie or candy bar at the Sylvan theater downtown. Through all the disciplining we never really got the message to stop talking in order to go to sleep. That’s HOW we went to sleep; we talked ourselves to sleep. That’s how strong the desire was.
What if – we slept in the guestroom? It was down the hall that ran along the big stairway. It was half a house away from our parents. What if we just asked Mom if we could do it for fun one night? Sleeping in the guest room would accomplish two things: (1) we wouldn’t have to talk too loud because we would be closer to each other in the double bed and (2) we would be further away from our parents’ room. Mom said it was okay, and we managed to avoid Dad’s opinion about it until it was a done deal.
The guest room was a large, square room, full of light from the two windows which faced the front of the house. The windows overlooked the slate patio that ran the length of the house and a boxwood hedge bordered it, which divided the slate patio from the somewhat scrappy front yard. At the other side of the yard was a large row of pine trees that ran along the street, the same trees we would climb up and throw fireballs on passing cars when Joanie Metcalf was babysitting. At night we could hear the slow steady whisper of cars driving by.
There was a rose colored tone to the guest room, running from pinky beige to light burgundy. It was warm and soft; it had an old fashioned feel but was not dark and depressing. It had a queen size bed, much better for giggling quietly. I thought the soft bone cotton candlewick bedspread was so inviting I just wanted to lie down on it and go to sleep.
After many nights of sleeping there together, the room was so accommodating to the two of us, I wondered why Mom didn’t put us in that room in the first place. Besides the fact it was the best room for a guest room, I’m sure we would have given it up for the few days our grandparents or some other relatives were visiting. Maybe it was because of Travis, whose bedroom was so close. He would be easily tempted to trouble us. Maybe she put us closer to her in the smaller room to protect us from him.
The first couple of nights were truly heavenly. Once lights were out, we would lie next to each other whispering for as long as we wanted. Giggling together was magic, even if it was exhausting. There was no one else on earth that laughed with me like Kate did. We didn’t even have to finish a sentence before we began to giggle, because we knew what the drift of the other’s intent was before it was spoken. We’d break out in muted giggles with the covers up to our necks, the pillows underneath our cheeks, the bed warming to our body temperature.
I was always the first one to grow tired of talking. Kate had this innate ability to talk on and on. We both did, actually, which comes naturally to twins who talk to each other incessantly. But Kate had a more difficult time falling asleep. She never liked the fact that the minute my head hit the pillow I naturally drifted off to sleep. She was frustrated by it; but it was just the way I was made. The fact she could do nothing about me drifting off to sleep spurred her on to talk more. When she saw my eyelids getting heavy, she would rev up the conversation. I, in half a daze, would try to keep my eyelids open and listen; at first sincere, and then half-heartedly as my mind and eyes couldn’t help but shut down. None of it stopped Kate from talking non-stop, and I would fall asleep with this dreary sense of a humming noise in the background, sort of like a television left on.
* * *
Like most addictions, the “as long as we wanted” part had a finite point of no return. After several days of feeling out of sorts at school, I realized I was tired every day; I knew it was because we were staying up way past our bedtime. And nobody was noticing. I was feeling draggy all day long. A kind of malaise set in. I didn’t know it yet, but I needed an escape route out of the very situation Kate and I had created.
After supper, while Mom was washing the dishes, Kate and I routinely sat with Dad in the TV room to watch the NBC Evening News with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. The TV room was nothing more than a small, dark, narrow room that connected to a back stairway to the second floor - which made for excellent get aways when playing indoor hide and seek. It was a tiny room with three entrances and a window, barely enough room to put a sofa and our television in it. The television was a 26-inch black and white tv encased in a gold and chrome frame, with a bulbous tv screen that looked more like a giant magnifying glass resting on the chrome stand. We would all squish together on the sofa or sit on the floor right below, not more than four feet from the tv screen. (I often thought it was one of the reasons I became near sighted in 3rd grade and started wearing glasses, although that theory was disproved by the fact that no one else in my family ever wore glasses.)
At the end of the NBC newscast, David Brinkley would dramatically slow his already lilting speech, pause, then look into the camera with a nod and say “Goodnight, Chet.” The camera would cut to Chet Huntley who in turn would look right into the camera and reply, “Goodnight, David. And Goodnight for NBC News.” There was instantly a resounding thunder of a tympany in a pattern of call and response. The music was the Devil’s Dance from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which begins with two beats of the tympany one after the other, one higher than the other, ending on the lower beat. It was quick, incisive and resonated throughout the running of the credits at the program’s end. BUM bum. BUM bum. BUM bum. This music was as familiar to us as the opening music to Captain Kangaroo or the many sitcom themes to Gilligan’s Island, The Dick Van Dyke Show, or Andy of Mayberry. The music was imbedded in our brains.
One night, after having watched The NBC News, Kate and I laid in the guestroom bed together and talked for awhile, going through the day’s events at school, comparing notes on our classes. We were naturally compelled to get through it all before settling for the night.
“Hey, why don’t we try something,” I said.
“What?” Kate asked.
“What if, while we’re talking, one of us gets tired and wants to go to sleep?…”
“Yeah,” Kate said curiously.
“We could have a signal, you know, so we don’t have to just SAY it, like “goodnight.” We know that wouldn’t work,” I said.
“Yeah, it wouldn’t,” Kate chuckled.
“So, here’s the idea: You know when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley end the news? They say this thing…like…”Goodnight, Chet,” and then Chet Huntley says, “Goodnight, David,” and then we both could say “And Goodnight for NBC News.” What if we did that?”
“I get it,” Kate said.
“And then, after that – the rule is nobody can talk to the other person,” I said rather matter-of-factly, like I was talking about someone else.
“Okay, … let’s try it,” she said.
We both lay on our stomachs, our heads to the side, in the ready-to-fall-asleep position.
I started it.
Kate responded, “Goodnight, David.”
And we both chimed in, “And goodnight for NBC News.”
It seemed odd at first because there was silence. The silence continued. And continued. And the next thing I knew, it was morning.
After several nights of doing this, we embellished the ritual, adding our own call and response, imitating the tympany and the mercurial melody of the Devil’s Dance in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
E (Ellie): BUM bum
K (Kate): BUM bum
Unison: BUM BUM.
Then we would sing the violin part together, the dance of the devil, a quick moving ditty depicting the light, sinewy dance that would lead us like the Pied Piper into sleep. We made-up the words sounding like violins:
“DEE deedle de deedle de deedle dee dee,
De deedle de deedle de deedle dee dee.
De deedle de de, de deedle dede, de deedle de deedle
We sang it together over and over, fading out with the solemn oath that no one would speak a word after that.
Kate never said another word about the ritual; she just took it as the new order and went from there. I was happy, and it seemed so was she. But something had slightly shifted. Maybe she was thankful for it too. Maybe she couldn’t stop herself from talking and it helped. But there it was. If Chet Huntley and David Brinkley could end the entire NBC News by saying goodnight the same way every night, why couldn’t we? The bonds of twinship were only stretched.