In This Great Country, It's One To A Bed

By Bill Hall

The measure of American affluence is not merely a car for every member of the family but a bed as well.

In fact, most families provide a separate bedroom for each child and most colleges and universities feel the same way. People in this country just don't sleep together the way they used to.

The story on the wire the other day said conditions are so horrible at the College of Southern Idaho that some students have been sleeping three to a room. Talk about hell on earth. Wait until those Kurdish kids in Iraq sleeping on the ground hear about this hardship.

There was once a time in America when sleeping with other people was in fashion. And I mean sleeping. I don't mean fooling around. There was once a time when it was common for the children of the family to sleep in the same bed, because that was all the family could afford. And people had a lot more kids then, so I guess I am talking about fooling around because, to look at all those large families, not everybody in America was asleep during those years.

In that era, it was not uncommon for four or five short kids, sleeping sideways, to share one standard bed. (The only people with king- and queen-sized beds in those days where kings and queens.)

I shared a bed as a child with three others my brother, a dog and a cat. The dog and cat joined us only in winter. We slept on an unheated sleeping porch trying to keep warm under 15 pounds of homemade quilts.

The cat and dog would burrow under the quilts on winter nights and we were glad to have them. A hot water bottle cools off during the night. A cat and dog don't.

The cat and dog felt the same way about us. Sure, they risked getting fleas from my brother and me, but when it's cold, you don't have much choice.

The two of them never fought under the covers. They fought outside in warm weather. But when winter came that cat and dog made peace with each other and snuggled up together under the quilts, saving each other from winter. For that reason, the term "cold war" has always sounded to me like a contradiction in terms.

That news story, in which some college vice president for sleep was complaining that students actually have to sleep three to a dormitory room, caught my attention because there were six of us in my first dorm room, though we didn't all sleep in the same bed.

This was before coed dorms so, as far as I was concerned, there was no point in it.

Our bunk beds were all in the same room but nobody had any trouble sleeping. That's because young males don't merely sleep; they become unconscious. When you're 18, a mattress is an anesthetic.

Far from being an unpleasant experience, it was a ball. And I learned almost as much in that room that year as I did in class. We were such a diverse bunch a journalism student, two pharmacy students, a farm kid studying auto mechanics in the vocational part of the school, an auto mechanic taking what would prove to be a brief fling at poltical science and an architecture student from Colombia, South America.

We talked and argued and played and laughed together for hours on end, sometimes studying as well. I learned more that year especially from having a foreign roommate than any other.

So I feel sorry for these one-to-a-room monks that some colleges now produce. My roommates were part of my education. Something is missing when you provide scholars with too much time alone. Privacy is a poor professor.

In truth, I guess I would prefer my privacy today, except, of course, for the roommate I married. The inhospitable fact is, we would rather not share the bedroom with architects, farmers, pharmacists and auto mechanics and certainly not with a political scientist.

Furthermore, I mean no offense in saying I prefer that my brother sleep in his own bedroom now. And his wife feels the same way.

Cats are a slightly different matter. They can, in certain well behaved cases, make affable foot warmers. But I keep them out of the bedroom anyway, even in winter. They have an unfortunate tendency to want to sleep sitting on a person's chest, breathing mouse breath in your face.

None of my college roommates ever did that, not even the political scientist.



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