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James R. Stout

Was It A Dream or Was It Real?

            What follows is a work of fiction, but a wonderfully pleasant fiction . . .

            I awoke to the smell of bacon and biscuits cooking. It was a wonderful aroma that stirred my stomach with anticipation. As I laid there in bed enjoying the moment my eyes suddenly opened wide with alarm. I live alone and I had no guests at the house. Where then was the enticing aroma coming from? I swung my legs off the bed as I sat up and I braced myself for the early morning arthritic aches that I knew would come when I arose from my slumber. I stood up and I was amazed that there were no aches or pains like there usually are when I first get up in the morning. That’s when I involuntarily looked down at my legs. I nearly screamed at what I saw. These weren’t my legs. They were the legs of a 9 or 10-year-old boy wearing a pair of pajama bottoms with cowboys and Indians colorfully displayed. That’s when I also noticed something else. I could see them with crystal clarity. No blurred vision that usually accompanied me before I dawned my trifocals for the first time for the day. I hadn’t seen that well without glasses for 30 years.

            I literally jumped out of bed and ran to look in the mirror that hung over my chest of drawers. But before I got there, I stopped cold in my tracks. I remembered that I didn’t have a mirror like that. I hadn’t looked in that mirror for nearly 50 years. What on Earth was going on? I stepped over and looked into the mirror and that’s when I nearly passed smooth out on the floor. I was looking at myself, but it was me sometime in 1964 or 1965 instead of the 63-year-old me of 2019. It was a face that I remembered mainly from old photographs, but there I was staring back at myself. The freckles on the bridge of my nose that went away in my teens, the “regular boys” haircut cut short and showing my ears before they grew enough for me to want to cover them up with longer hair, the clear hazel eyes, the impossibly small nose compared to what I have become accustomed to, and the thin body were all there to see. I gingerly touched my face and it was all real. I thought that maybe I was going nuts. Was I dreaming? I pinched myself hard and winced at the pain. I even slapped myself leaving a red mark on my right cheek. It wasn’t a dream. It was real.

            I became aware of the sound of music coming from the bedroom next to mine. If this was real and I had somehow gone back in time, then my sisters were likely listening to music while getting ready for the day. I listened closer and the sound of Herman’s Hermits made me smile. Peter Noone was singing “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”. I could almost picture my sister Debbie swooning while listening to Peter. I had to smile at that. I opened the top drawer of my chest of drawers and removed a clean pair of underwear and socks. I opened the second drawer and took out a black “muscle shirt”, the kind with no sleeves, and a pair of blue jeans. I opened my door and crossed the hall, entered the bathroom, and closed the door. This may have been the house of my childhood and my family within, but I was reticent to be seen without a shower.

            I quickly took a shower, dressed, combed my hair, and was satisfied with my appearance in the bathroom mirror. Then I opened the bathroom door and found myself staring at my mother and both sisters who were all standing there with their arms crossed and looks of abject wonder on their faces. I suddenly remembered that when I was a boy it took an act of Congress to get me to bathe or comb my hair. My actions must have alarmed the ladies of the house. My sister Barbara rolled her eyes and said, “I need the bathroom!”

            I quickly moved out of the way as she entered the bathroom and nearly closed the door on me. My sister Debbie just shook her head, a head still laden with curlers, and turn around and went back into the bedroom that she and Barbara shared. Then I looked at my mother. She was so young! A pain in my chest, a pleasant kind of pain, arose and I quickly stepped over and gave my mother a fierce hug. I realized that tears were forming in my eyes. I haven’t been able to hug my mother since the day before she passed away. If this wasn’t real, and I wanted for it to be real with all my heart, then it was a wonderful dream. I looked up at my mother and she was looking at me like I had lost my mind. Perhaps I had. She just didn’t quite no what to do with her 9-year-old son willingly giving her a hug. I could tell she was at a loss for words and then she finally said, “Breakfast is ready.”

            I followed her down the hall and noticed the framed needlework panels on the wall. I remembered them and had to smile. One said, “Travel East, Travel West, After All, Home Is Best”, and another said, “Home Sweet Home”. I hadn’t seen those in decades. We entered the breakfast room next to the kitchen and the table was set. Mom started to put the biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon on the table and called out, “Girls, breakfast is ready!”

            I sat down at the table on one side by the end where my father usually sat. There was a glass of cold milk waiting for me. Then I heard the front door close and a few seconds later my father walked into the room holding the morning paper. I jumped out of my chair and ran to him and hugged him tightly. A crazy mix of emotions flooded my mind. I could feel his strong arms around my shoulders, smelled his Old Spice after shave, and I also clearly remembered holding his hand and kissing his cheek before whispering in his ear that he could go to Heaven now. I would take care of Mom for him. It was a memory of something that wouldn’t happen until June 14, 2016 – 52 years after the moment that I was living through. I stepped back and caught him and mom looking at each other with wide eyes and baffled shrugs.

            My sisters came into the room and we all sat down for breakfast. Dad asked who wanted to say the prayer and I quickly raised my hand. Another exchange of glances between my parents and then we all bowed our heads. Then I prayed what I hoped would be a prayer expected of a 9-year-old boy, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for my wonderful family. Thank you for giving me loving parents and such dear sisters. Please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and please keep us safe throughout our busy day. In Jesus name, Amen.”

            Well, I opened my eyes and found 4 pairs of eyes staring at me in disbelief. I guess I had kind of overdone the prayer for a young boy. All that my Dad could say was, “That was a nice prayer, Randy.” My sisters both looked at me like I was an alien and my mother just sat there with a blank look on her face. I don’t think she had a clue what to do or say.

            I decided that perhaps I should shut up and listen to the talk around the table to get a feel for exactly when it was. I quickly learned that it was a Friday. Good Friday, 1965. April 16, 1965 to be exact. We were out of school that day. No wonder my mother was surprised that I had taken a shower. We would be leaving after lunch to go to my grandparent’s farm for Easter weekend. Mom reminded us to get our suitcases packed and she would get our Easter clothes together. Dad said that he would be taking the car down to the filling station after breakfast to get gas and have the oil checked and so forth. I asked him if I could go with him and he said that would be fine if I had my suitcase ready to go. Barbara talked about the choir concert at her high school that would be the following week and Debbie talked about Wayne Thomas. I remembered her crush on Wayne and I had to smile.

            Breakfast was soon over and we clearly the dishes. I was tasked with wiping down the table and the girls went back to finish getting their suitcase packed. Mom cleaned the dishes and I hurried to my room and packed my suitcase with what I figured would be the clothes that I would need. Dad was ready to go to have the car serviced and I put on a pair of old Converse tennis shoes and followed him out to the car. I decided that I would confide in Dad what was going on. I was searching my memory for some event that would occur in the news that would prove what I would be telling him about my time traveling. I remembered that it was decided the roof of the Astrodome would have to be painted to stop the glare that was causing the players to lose sight of the ball. I didn’t remember the exact date, but I knew it was sometime late in April. I figured if I had to wait a few days for the proof that would be OK. I also thought about some things that Dad had told us much later about his youth. I could always tell him something that he would know he hadn’t told us yet.

            As we drove to Steel Conner’s Shell Station, I worked up the nerve to tell Dad. But when I tried the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Something was keeping me from telling him. I knew that he had a notepad and pen in the center console of the car, so I got them out and tried to write down what was happening. The words vanished as soon as I wrote them. Something was going on for sure. Instead, we talked about the Astros, the Gemini Space Program, and the upcoming “Wild Wild West” episode that night on CBS. I found myself looking at my Dad and thinking how young he was. He was wearing his sunglasses that made him look so cool. I inadvertently said, “I love you, Dad”. He looked at me, grinned a huge grin, and said, “Well, I love you too, Randy.”

            We got back home and loaded the trunk with our suitcases and then ate a quick sandwich for lunch. It was time to go. Somewhere on Highway 21 between Bryan and Madisonville I dozed off to sleep. When I awoke something was different. A heavy weight was on me. I rubbed my eyes and realized I was back in 2019, sitting in my recliner, and feeling the aches and pains that I was more accustomed to. Was it a dream? I don’t think so. I think it was a wonderful blessing and gift from God. The experience has filled my heart with love, with thanks, and with a new vigor for life. I was given an opportunity to spend time with my family again. Mom, Dad, and Barbara are all gone, and I know that they are experiencing the joy of being in Heaven with Jesus. Debbie and I will join them someday, but not today. Not yet. There’s life to live, grandchildren to love, children to cherish, and the sure knowledge that all is well despite it appearing bleak in today’s world. As George Bailey would say, “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

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