What really goes on in your mind when you’re sleeping? Well, dreaming is one answer, but how do you explain sleepwalking? Does some part of your brain take over while you sleep and make your body do things you won’t remember? Beats me. I just know I’m at least a second generation sleepwalker.
My father was a sleepwalker as a child and according to my grandfather did some strange things while sound asleep. I came by talent naturally. For example, I grew up in a split-level house in a suburban neighborhood. One night, when I was five years old, my parents were in the living room playing bridge with the neighbors. It was late, around ten. According to my mother, she looked up and saw me walking down the stairs dressed in my PJs. None of the stereotypical sleepwalking with eyes closed, arms straight out, walking like a mummy. Nope, I came down the stairs like usual, eyes wide open, at a normal speed.
When I reached the front hall my mother asked, “Randy, what do you want?” Thinking I was awake, she was a bit miffed when I ignored her question and turned toward the front door. “Randy, where are you going?”
I didn’t stop, but grabbed the door knob and replied in a normal voice, “I’m getting something to eat.” With that I opened the door and stepped out into the night.
Naturally my mother was concerned and jumped up, as the others looked toward the open door. By the time she got there I walked back in the house, without saying a word, and went upstairs to bed.
“What were you doing last night?” My mother asked the next morning at breakfast.
“You don’t remember going outside?”
“What?” I was surprised at the question. All I remembered was going to bed and waking the next morning.
That wasn’t the only time I got up and wandered around at night.
Two years later, when I was seven, my parents and I went on a camping trip to Newfoundland, Canada. For those of you that may not know, Newfoundland is an island off the east coast of Canada. To get there it required putting the car on a large ferryboat and crossing the St. Lawrence Channel. In 1959 the Trans-Canada Highway opened from one end of the island to the other. That seemed like a good reason for my father to make the trip.
During the Second World War my father was a navigator with Air Transport Command. One of his regular stops was the airport in the middle of Newfoundland at Gander. He wanted to visit the place, but also take advantage of great fishing and do some mineral collecting and visit a couple of working mines.
Our vehicle was a 1959 blue International Travelall—the forerunner of the SUV. My parents had two cots in the back and my father built a popup for the roof where I’d sleep, complete with a ladder. My mother sewed together the nylon covering with flaps and a zipper down the middle. It was like sleeping in a little tent all by myself on top of the car. It was pretty cool.
A small mining town called Buchans was one of our stops. My father made arrangements to visit the mine and refinery. While there for two nights, we stayed in what was called the Staff House, sort of a boarding house for some of the mine’s personnel and for occasional visitors. It was a two-story building with bedrooms on both floors and a large dining room. We had two rooms on the first floor.
Our first night there, after my parents put me to bed, they visited with the mine superintendent, a man from California. He was so happy to have some people from the States to talk with and kept my parents up until around eleven. They checked in on me and I was sound asleep and then they went to bed.
The next morning at breakfast we sat eating bacon and eggs when a man approached the table. He came up behind my seat and gently placed his hand on my shoulder. I looked up and he smiled down at me. “Nice to see you again,” he said.
My parents looked at him, then each other, and finally at me.
The man chuckled, “Good morning. My name’s Johnson. I live here and my room’s directly over your rooms.” My mother gave the man a funny look. “I don’t mean to barge in on your breakfast, I just wanted to see how this fellow was doing.”
“Why the interest in our son?” My father sounded suspicious.
I looked up at the man, who I’d never seen before and wondered what he was talking about.
Johnson laughed hard. Again, my parents exchanged looks and then studied this stranger. My father said, “When did you see Randy?”
“Oh, so that’s your name. Now we’ve been formally introduced.” The man chuckled again. He was obviously having a great time at our expense, as none of us knew what was going on.
“What are you talking about?” My mother was growing annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” Johnson said. “I guess I should explain.”
“That would be a good idea,” my father said with an edge to his voice.
“Well, I was out last night with some of the boys from the mine. We’d been drinking some, as there’s not much else to do around here at night.” The looks from my parents grew more serious. “I got home pretty late, went up to my room, and turned on the light.” He looked down at me again. “Boy, did I get a shock.” He started giggling, my parents frowned. “Well, what do you suppose I saw?”
“I couldn’t guess.” My father was clearly peeved.
“I saw your son, curled up in my bed, sound asleep.”
My parents’ jaws dropped.
“I had no idea who this little boy was sleeping in my bed. Sort of reminded me of the three bears. It was late and nobody was up to ask who the boy was. I didn’t know what to do, so I went down to the kitchen and fortunately Mr. Thorn, the cook was rummaging around for a late night snack. ‘Ho, there, Johnson,’ he said. ‘What are you doing up so late?’ I asked him to come upstairs with me. So, Thorn follows me up to my room and I pointed to the boy in my bed. ‘Oh my God,’ Thorn said and whistled. Who is this kid, I asked. ‘Belongs to those Americans staying on the first floor.’ Well, I said, I suppose we better put him back before he’s missed.”
My parents’ expressions were no longer angry, but astonished.
“We tried to wake the boy, but he didn’t stir. So, I picked up your son, carried him downstairs, and put him in his bed.” Johnson squeezed my shoulder. “You never woke up, did you?”
All I could do was shake my head. I had absolutely no memory of the event. Evidentially, after my parents went to bed, I did one of my sleepwalking journeys. I left my room, went into the hall, up the stairs, entered the room directly over mine, and climbed into the man’s empty bed. Naturally, my parents were shocked and worried. I can just imagine how parents would react to a similar event in this day and age.
After that my parents took precautions to prevent me from wandering around at night. When they put me in my little popup, after zipping closed the flaps, they hooked a big blanket pin to secure the tent from the outside. Given we were camping in the middle of nowhere, as there were rarely any campgrounds to stay in, they were understandably concerned that I’d wander off and disappear. This was especially concerning when we were camped by an old abandoned mine. Not far from our campsite was an open shaft that plunged into the old mine.
Fortunately there were no more incidents on that trip. A few times I wandered around the house, but stopped sleepwalking all together by the time I was eight. The thing about any of those events is that I have absolutely no firsthand knowledge of what I did. But what I know of those events comes from my parents repeatedly telling the story to other people. I can only believe what they told me, but I suppose you can’t make that up.
Thought I’d share a few pictures from that trip .
Here is the old car. This picture is from my mother’s scrapbook complete with her typed caption.
Here’s me ascending to my rooftop domain.
The old mine shaft. You can see me and a local kid in the upper left corned. I guess they didn’t want me wandering around in my sleep around that place.