I come from (what would be considered in today’s world) a big family. I have 5 brothers and 3 sisters. (I also have an additional 1/2-sister, but that’s a different story). But in my youth, families of our size were considered very normal. In the 50’s and 60’s, people simply had kids when they had kids. There was no intellectualized consideration of whether the parents could only afford “X” number of kids. They trusted that God would give them exactly as many kids as they were meant to have.
So, because there were so many of us in the house, especially at night, and because we normally lived in a 3 bedroom home, that meant that my parents had their room, my sisters had their room, and my brothers and I were comfortably crammed into a single room. In the early years, in was three boys per bed, with arms and legs commonly overlapping each other with no offense felt. Later, we graduated to bunk beds, and it took me a while to get used to being in a single bed (even one as small as a bunk bed) by myself. For some reason, I was always assigned the upper bunk, and for some reason, I regularly fell out of that upper bunk in the middle of the night. I never got hurt, and I only cried the first time it happened. I just got used to waking up to the sudden jolt of landing on the floor in the wee hours of the night, quickly coming to the realization of what had happened, and then crawling back into my upper bunk and, just as quickly, back to sleep. After a time (I’m not sure when), I eventually and simply stopped falling out of bed.
There is one undeniable fact about a family our size, 9 kids and a dog make a constant amount of noise: loud whispers into the night as each child fought sleep, constant trips to the one bathroom in the house – kids rooms upstairs, single bathroom downstairs, and several squeaky stair treads in-between them, not to mention the sound of fighting dogs or cats in the middle of the night, street noises, and so on. Because I had always been exposed to this concert of sound, I had no problem at all falling asleep each night amidst this soundtrack.
What I hadn’t realized until I eventually moved out of the house and on my own (to join the military) was… I needed that soundtrack. Only when it was gone did I realize that it was responsible for soothing me to sleep each night. My family soundtrack wrapped itself around me like a blanket and assured me that I was home. But after leaving home, in the midst of 50 other guys in a tin bunkhouse, or later in a crowded military dormitory, the soundtrack had significantly changed. It didn’t soothe. It didn’t lull. The sounds were like someone banging pots and pans together, and it made sleep nearly impossible.
I eventually bought a little 10-inch black and white TV for my dorm room because I missed my Star Trek episodes, watching M*A*S*H and enjoying old movies, and my new TV offered me a taste of the familiar in what was still a very strange environment for me. And, in the middle of watching The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, I began to wish I could listen to my shows and stories and movies at night; because they were so familiar, maybe they’d be able to replace the sounds of my family soundtrack.
So, my next purchase was a portable cassette recorder and a stack of 60-minute blank cassette tapes. I also began regularly buying the TV Guide from the market when I went to buy food so that I could find my favorite shows and plan my recording sessions.
That’s how it began – my nighttime white noise sessions.
It started simply, with cassettes of: a few Star Trek episodes, a great crossover 2-part special of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, the original “Thing”, and several others. I recorded about 8 hours of material and I played them over and over. I had the portable cassette player on the nightstand next to my head with the volume as low as it could go without being “zero” (so I wouldn’t disturb my roommate), and from then on, I slept like a baby.
Over the years, I recorded many other favorite TV episodes, a few other movies, but my favorite was a 90-minute Memorex tape of Cape Canaveral during the pre-release, release, and initial test landing of the very first Space Shuttle: The Enterprise. It never went into space, but it was always my favorite.
As my tapes stretched and broke and jammed up my player, I ended up recording new shows and buying new players. I had cracked the code. I needed my white noise. I had tried several times to sleep without them, and most times I ended up either tossing and turning all night, or I simply stayed awake until dawn.
Then came the era of the portable DVD player. Wow! I was in heaven! My poor cassette player quickly gathered dust and my tapes were stored in a box (and they’re still there) as I built my DVD library and purchased a set of headphones. (Yes, you heard me. Not “earphones”, but “headphones” — those big things that fit over your ears. I slept with those on so that I wouldn’t wake up your mother.)
Over the years I wore out MANY copies of the same movies and I completely exhausted numerous portable DVD players. But I needed my white noise to sleep, so the only “advance” I made for a very long time was to eventually get a set of earphones to replace my beaten and broken headphones.
Now, nearly 40 years after recording my first cassette tape, my last portable DVD player is now gathering dust and I’ve boxed up nearly all of my DVDs in favor of using an iPad and listening to digital movies and TV shows. When I travel, I’ll use my iPhone because it allows me access to all of my movies and TV shows, and now – no matter where I am – I can play my white noise and fall deeply asleep.
Does this foible – this eccentricity – make me abnormal?
I listen to Life Coaches and Yoga Instructors and other such persons who all strongly recommend to their students and clients that they must begin using meditation techniques in order to help them sleep. I see “White Noise” machines on Amazon and in Facebook that play the sounds of oceans and breezes and night sounds in order to help people sleep. There are apps you can download that do the same thing.
Hmm. Maybe I was just a few decades ahead of the game? Or… more likely… I was simply a young man who missed his home and family and, out of desperation, came up with the only thing that simulated the soundtrack of his youth.
Could be worse, right? I could be carrying a worn and smelly blanket from my youth. Thank God for simple blessings.