Uncle Lee’s Bed

It was the tallest, highest bed in the world, I think, where I spent every Christmas Eve as a boy. For the holiday, we traveled from Buffalo to Salamanca, N.Y., to the home of my grandparents on Academy Street. My brother, who was older, got to spend the night with our cousins over at their house on Broad Street, at the house of fun, but I, being smaller and in need of closer supervision, spent the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, in Uncle Lee’s old room. My Uncle Lee, who was the youngest of the four Winships of that generation, was grown up and had a family of his own, so his room was empty. It was at the back of the house, with windows overlooking the yard. A backyard in Salamanca in 1950 was a very quiet place. And unless the moon and stars had something going on, it was very dark as well. And this was a house of old, dark wood, and dark wallpaper, too.

And because the wind outside could blow out a candle inside, it was cold. You could have seen your breath in this room, if there had been any light.

But to the bed. It was already a tall bed, and it had a huge set of springs on the frame, and a thick mattress. On top of this was a pile of covers, blankets, quilts. I had to be lifted up into the bed, and then buried in covers. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Fortunately, I liked the dark, and lots of covers, and I liked being alone. And the room had one magical quality. Uncle Lee had been in the Navy, and there hung, on the wall at the head of the bed, a photograph of Uncle Lee with his Navy squadron, a group photo. I am working solely on memory here, but there must have been 100 men in Navy uniforms, with Uncle Lee among them. And in the morning, I could look at the photo and try to find Uncle Lee. It was one of the best parts of Christmas.

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