Just thinking

Weather inside is frightful, but flannel sheets? Delightful

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Nothing says winter like a bedroom that's 48 degrees.

When the temperature began to drop a few weeks ago, my husband and I had our usual semi-annual discussion regarding bed sheets. Stay with the mostly cotton ones we use in the spring and summer, or make the shift to cotton flannel and hope we haven't miscalculated?

Changing from cool, slick mostly cotton to warm nubby flannel may not seem do-or-die to you. "If it gets warm again, just go back to regular sheets," you may say, but you surely don't mean go back to regular sheets at 1:20 a.m. on a Tuesday when we wake up boiling hot and tangled in heavy, damp flannel. That would mean getting out of bed, locating the sheets -- we do know where they are, but scrabbling for sheets in the middle of the night is like looking for the hammock in January -- stripping the bed and putting the new sheets on. If we did that -- and that's an if about the size of a Shetland pony -- I can tell you it wouldn't go well.

First, we'd struggle to divide the pillowcases properly and then we'd argue over which fitted pocket goes on which mattress corner. Even in the middle of the day, figuring out those elasticized sheets is a challenge. I often try what seems like eight different sheet corners before I find the right one.

After that, of course, we'd have to shake out the straight sheet, let it float down over the bed and then tuck it under the bottom end of the mattress, at which point we'd realize I have 17 inches of sheet on my side and my husband has half an inch on his side. By the time the sheets have achieved symmetry and we're back in bed, so much time has passed we're afraid to look at the clock and anyway, we're no longer sleepy. We're just lying on our backs staring at the ceiling and thinking the kinds of thoughts a person thinks at that hour.

Whether the thoughts lean toward your life's most embarrassing moments (for me that's always the day I read out the name of a raw men's magazine while speaking to a class of fourth-graders) or the ever-popular inevitability of death, the thoughts aren't the sort that gently guide a person to peaceful slumber. On the contrary, an hour later I'm more alert than ever.

Had the students in that fourth-grade classroom been daydreaming through my talk or were they fully engaged and listening when I opened the book I had with me -- a compendium of publishers and publications -- and blurted out the first magazine title on which my eye fell? It was the name of a woodland rodent, though it was not a nature magazine.

In the full light of day, I tend to think the children weren't really listening and wouldn't have understood what I said anyway. In the gloom of deepest night, forget it. That's when I'm sure they all heard me, they all saw my horrified confusion and even now, as 30-year-old college graduates, they all tell this story when they want to make their friends laugh like hyenas.

As for the teachers, of course they heard. It was their job to listen; otherwise, they'd have spent the hour fruitfully, grading papers in the faculty lunchroom. In their cases, I can only hope the inevitability of death has worked in my favor. Not that I wish them ill, but death is inevitable, and as long as I'm still around to remember that soul-searing incident, I can't help hoping a few of its witnesses have departed.

Probably not, though. As I recall, the teachers in charge that day were extremely young, just a year or two out of college. Furthermore, I'm sure I saw them exchange looks of barely suppressed hilarity.

You see what I mean. In the middle of the night, I'd rather think about death.

But about the upstairs temperature. We keep our bedroom cool -- some would say "hibernal" -- because we like the air outside our flannel-sheeted cocoon to be crisp. It makes for better sleeping.

As I speak, the flannel sheets are on the bed and doing their job. They remind me of childhood Christmas Eves at my grandparents' house, where my sister and I shared a bed in an unheated room, bickering in whispers, kicking body parts that dared to stray across the middle of the mattress, falling silent only when our mother sternly called "Girls!" from the bottom of the stairs.

We were cozy, though, because we were between flannel sheets. If they aren't the secret to making it through a long, cold winter, I'll be a woodland rodent.

Write to ThisWeek News columnist and copy editor Margo Bartlett at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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