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Jefferson Weaver: Whatever goes bump in the night

By Jefferson Weaver

Since the time we sat around campfires or in caves, wondering what lay beyond the flickering flames, most humans have had a fear, or at least a discomfort, with the night.

While humans are naturally diurnal, there have always been some who were willing to venture out from the circle of comfort or the safety of their homes when the sun gives up its fight for the day and the darkness rises. As we have adapted to such conveniences as the electric light, not to mention locked doors and other trappings of civilization, we have also adapted, being somewhat more willing to go out where our ancestors feared that the wild things, ghosts and other night creatures lurked.

I have always been prone to being nocturnal, although there are those who would place more in the lycanthropic, if not true lunatic, category, rather than just being a night owl. Compare my beard and Lon Chaney’s in The Wolfman if you need further explanation. Unlike that tragic character, however, I usually love the night. Even as a small child, I embraced slipping outside in the darkness, well past bedtime. As an adult, I love wandering the fields and forests in the darkest hours.

There’s an old adage that nothing good happens after midnight; indeed, that very tendency toward after-dark human misbehavior was one reason I was out with several dozen friends in patrol cars at an hour when I really wanted to be in bed.

Poor planning and a big storm meant I had to make an almost-midnight emergency stop in a particular retail establishment I avoid at all costs, but Sunday dinner at church meant salad ingredients that we didn’t have at home.

As we go about our day-to-day lives, we rarely think of those whose day begins at sunset, and whose night begins at dawn. I do not mean critters, both two- and four-legged. I mean folks for whom making a living means working the nightshift.

The cashier who processed my purchase was less than enthusiastic to be counting change at midnight, but she was polite. Two of her coworkers, however, more than made up for her lack of verve.

They were sweeping the floor — a never-ending job in a place that huge, I am sure –- but they honestly seemed to be enjoying the companionship, if not the task. One would push the bulldozer-like broom toward an industrial dustpan held by his partner, and with a well-practiced flourish, the dust and refuse of ten thousand shopper’s feet was carefully but flamboyantly deposited in a rolling trash can. They obviously had the attitude that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade –- even if you’re sweeping floors on third shift.

I have no idea if the police officer I saw patrolling the dark, quiet street was one who prefers the night, or just trying to make it through another shift that would get him closer to home, then closer to working days like a sane person. He was out there, though, keeping the wolf from the door. Many was the time when I worked overnight in Burgaw, Clinton and Elizabethtown that a perfunctorily polite wave would turn into a visit with those charged with keeping the streets peaceful so everyday, normal folks could rest easy in their homes.

Passing the hospital, I thought about how the doctors, nurses and other medical folks often don’t see natural light, outside of what may sneak in through a window or cross their windshield as they wake up for work, or make their way home. The unnatural, non-stop incandescent daylight never ends in a busy hospital; just the times I’ve spent overnight when family and friends were admitted or waiting left me nervous and out of sorts. I cannot imagine adding the tension of taking care of folks.

Heading toward that same hospital was an ambulance, running its red lights but no siren, at a hurried but not urgent pace. We never think about the firefighters and rescue folks who man lonely stations at night, at least not until we need them. I can occasionally see the red lights flashing through the woods as they pass our home, and I try to remember to say a prayer for those who are helping, and those who they are trying to help. Those prayers take on a different urgency when it’s the middle of the night.

One of my favorite clerks had somehow gotten punished by being put on the all-night shift, and she was taking advantage of a few minutes with no customers to hastily smoke a cigarette outside her store, where she stood guard ready to sell a few gallons of gas, a soft drink, a pack of smokes or a cup of coffee to anyone who found themselves in desperate need in the dark of the night.

My skaedugengan spirit aside, I was more than pleased to get home finally, where my beloved Miss Rhonda had a cold drink waiting, and the air conditioner purred reassurance from the bedroom window. Much as I love the night, even I have to sleep sometimes.

As we drifted off to sleep, I wondered how many of us take the night shift workers for granted; the ones who keep the stores clean, the industries moving, the trains and trucks rolling, or make sure we can get gasoline at 2 a.m. No one ever really thinks of those folks in fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, emergency rooms and hospital floors who know all too well that the day doesn’t end at 5 p.m., and in some cases, is just getting going.

During a brief break from an exhausted sleep, there was a suspicious noise in the front yard. I stepped out to the front porch to see the last of the clouds fleeing from an almost-full moon, and nothing more threatening to the safety and sanctity of our home and farm than an errant owl. The air was thick with humidity, but the night was still beautiful.

I think that’s why some of us gravitate toward the night shift -— any night, even one in a garishly neon- and sodium vapor-lit city, has its own beauty. Despite society’s insistence and some scientific evidence that it’s unnatural for a human to stir in the darkness, some of us understand that there is a quiet beauty sometimes that can only be appreciated by those who don’t fear whatever goes bump in the night.

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