Pillow Talk

I have no recall of the years before I reached three years old, but my years since then are quite clear and after Mom, I loved my pillow best of all.

Not many people will admit that they love a pillow but I did, and that first little pillow was the perfect pillow because it was just the right thickness. I can still remember when my little pillow was replaced by a fat stranger that had a weird smell. I wanted my little pillow back but was told the trash men took it to the dump. The next Thursday I was waiting for them. I told them I wanted my pillow returned, but they laughed and said, “Get out of the way kid or we might drop a trash can on you!”

The new pillow was too fat and it gave me a pain in the neck and it did not smell like feathers. I wanted old skinny back. I tried sleeping without a pillow, but something was missing and I had a difficult time getting to sleep. One night in desperation I grabbed that fat pillow and gave it a bear hug. As I laid on my back hugging that fat pillow, I went to sleep very fast. And that is how I went to sleep for the next seventeen years until I went into the Army – on my back hugging my pillow.

One day in November 1967, I opened the mailbox and found the letter I had been dreading –yep, my invitation to the US Army had arrived. My first day in the Army was December 3rd and I got my first ever train ride down to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was a long ride and I could not sleep in those “train chairs”, so I found the baggage car and slept on the mailbags. After we got off the train, they fed us and put us on buses to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I did sleep on the bus in the “bus chairs”. After we got off the bus everybody yelled at us and they called us “trainees”, which was ok with me. All I wanted to do was sleep in a real bed.

We were grouped into a platoon and finally assigned a bunk and told the best news I ever heard; we had to be in the bunk at 9 pm! All my life I had gone to bed at 9 pm and I got up every day at 6 am. This Army life was going to be OK!

The Army did not sleep until 6 am. They blew a bugle at 5 am and that meant get up, get dressed, and get yelled at! My second night in the Army was one of the best sleeps I ever had in all my life and there was a surprise too. I found my skinny pillow, the trash men did not get it, the Army did! I was so happy I actually thanked my sergeant; he yelled, “You are welcome. trainee!”

The pillow was perfect but whoever bought those bunks never planned to sleep on them! Actually the proper name for them was “all metal folding cots”, and they were about as comfortable as sleeping on the ground. We learned quickly that we soldiers should not complain about Army equipment, and that “they who do” become “poster children”. The Army believes that group learning is the very best, longest lasting learning, and so when a trainee complained that the cot was very uncomfortable, the sergeant smiled. Sergeants are not very happy people, and when one smiles we learned something awful is about to happen. He asked for a show of hands of all who agreed with the trainee who just “bad mouthed Uncle Sam’s equipment”. I knew this was leading to a painful dead-end road. Several of the too honest for their own good trainees voted, and the sergeant almost laughed. This was going to be a long lasting lesson, and I wished I never opened the mailbox. The sergeant counted the hands and said, “Well everyone, take a good look at who caused you to sleep on the floor under your cot for the next three nights”! As I crawled under that cot at 9 pm, I was just so happy that no one had said anything ugly about the skinny little pillows. Almost every place I went in the Army I found a skinny Army pillow waiting for me, even in the hospital when I had pneumonia.

I was disappointed when I got to Fort Wolters, Texas to begin flight school; not a skinny pillow anywhere to be found! We were issued Air Force beds, no more saggy Army cots and no more skinny pillows. We had heard stories about the Air Force and their Holiday Inn lifestyle but seeing is believing. Great big thick mattresses and beds that were not made by prisoners at Fort Levenworth, Kansas (the Army Prison). These were bridal suite quality beds like in civilian hotels. No wonder the Air Force has never had a recruiting problem. The sergeant said the Air Force did not trust the Army with their Teddy Bears, and then he smiled.

In Vietnam we went back to the basic Army cot and, yes, those adorable skinny pillows were there too. We heard rumors that Air Force guys got purple hearts if they had to sleep on an Army cot.

Since we never knew where we might be at night, most of the air crews bought cheap rope hammocks and found ways to hang them in or under the helicopters. My favorite place was under the tail boom in the night air, with the mosquito net draped over the tail boom. I wired my skinny pillow to the hammock and used my poncho for a blanket just in case it rained as it often did. Eat your heart out “RAMBO”!

After my nineteen-month tours of duty ended, I turned in my Army stuff and returned to Virginia. It was not easy saying good-bye to that skinny pillow. It had all of the scars of war, beer drool stains, ear wax stains, camouflage stains, and even O positive blood stains from when the door gunner’s machine gun exploded on my neck. In retrospect, I should have given it a proper Army burial, but … I gave it to the trash men instead.

College was expensive so I joined the North Carolina National Guard and once again found myself sleeping in and under helicopters. I was very disappointed when my equipment issue did not include a skinny Army pillow. The sergeant just smiled and said, “we never sleep in the National Guard”. The other guys had already solved the pillow problem, they used empty sandbags, stuffed in a field jacket or newspaper – worked great.

After 37 years of marriage I now realize that wives are all sergeants. They do not like questions or complaints and sleeping under the bed is still a possibility. Recently we bought a new mattress and box springs to go on the old brass bed I restored during the winter. As an added incentive the furniture company gave us a free pillow (ha, ha – there ain’t No Free Pillows!) It is one of those very famous TV pillows sold by the guy in the blue shirt who stands in the bathroom medicine cabinet. I have always been a skeptic of the too good to be FREE or TRUE deals, and I got that feeling again. Peggy graciously insisted that I try it first, so I reluctantly used it the first/only night and found it no better than the sandbag. It is too fat and smells new! I knew if I claimed that pillow, Peggy was going to fork out fifty bucks for another one, and the pillow trap would slam shut! The old, one potato chip trick…well, it won’t work on a real pillow veteran!

The second night I asked Peggy to put a pillow case on the box the new pillow had arrived in… I gave it a bear hug and went to sleep on my back in no time at all. But all of this has ignited my longing for another skinny Army pillow that smells like feathers. I might just find an Army surplus sale and get me a half dozen of those skinny little pillows at a dollar each and sleep better than Peggy on her fifty buck scientific wonder pillow. It is times like these that cause me to envy the cat. His mama gave him pillow paws! -- By LUDDD CREEF @ Hickory Cove