OP-ED: Sleeping Sam Stories

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben

Next in the series from Come Home. Love, Dadpublished by Bernard Street Books, a memoir about my father, Samuel Reuben – a truly extraordinary man.   

Samuel Reuben had an incredible mind.  It danced forward, backward, up and down on a tightrope of unpredictability, always surprising, delighting, never losing its sense of timing, its balance, or its fine touch.

A friend of mine who only met my father once is convinced that he had supernatural powers of insight.  We had been sitting around the kitchen table talking about our favorite things.  What they were.  Why they were.  That kind of chatter.  As usual, my mother, I, and every other Reuben female were talking at the same time.  With equal predictability, the Reuben men were leaning back or forward in their chairs, apparently sound asleep, a division of labor which had proved, over the years, to result in happiness for all parties concerned.

My friend was trying to tell us what her favorite dog breed was.  She stammered a bit and had said only, “I don’t know how to describe it,” before my father opened up those heavily lashed eyelids of his, looked up at her, made brief but compelling eye-contact, said  “Saint Bernard,” and then dropped his eyes and seemed to go back to sleep.

Of course, he was right about the Saint Bernard, which is why she is convinced that he was mystical.

One of my husband’s favorite stories about my father’s ability to be both alert and asleep at the same time took place during Charlie’s first visit to Highland Park, right after we’d become engaged.  Charlie had come home with me for the proverbial “prospective son-in-law” inspection.  My father by now had slowed down considerably as a result of his Parkinson’s disease, and was therefore more easily able to bewilder his family about his state of somnolence.  He was sitting silently out on the porch, apparently asleep, when the sound of a four-propeller engine rumbled laboriously through the sky.  Without looking up or opening up his eyes, he raised his eyebrows in the direction of the plane, stated drolly, “Cleveland mentality,” and then reverted back to being imperturbable, immutable, or asleep.

Everyone who knew him has a favorite “Sleeping Sam” story, or a sweet remembrance that confirms my belief that my father was one of the funniest men who ever lived.  Not “ha ha” funny, but the kind of funny that makes you open your eyes in the middle of the night with a puzzled grin and muse, “I wish I could think like that; I wish my mind functioned in such a non-conforming, benevolent and bizarre way.”

All throughout my life, I considered Samuel Reuben to be both the most loving, adoring, mothering father in the world while at the same time he managed to be completely inscrutable.  

Often, to get us children laughing, he would smile broadly, raise his hand to his forehead, and then draw it slowly down over his eyes, his nose, and his mouth like a slow-moving window shade.  Whichever feature his hand passed instantly changed from comically happy to woefully grim.

Just as we became (or pretended to become) apprehensive that his mood had, indeed, undergone such a drastic transformation, his hand would begin the return journey from the bottom of his chin, up over his mouth, his nose, and his eyes to the top of his head, thereby vanquishing the scowl and reasserting the grin.

Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben.  Reprinted from Come Home. Love, Dad, originally published by Bernard Street Books. ISBN: 0-9662868-1-2.  Available from barnesandnoble.com; Amazon.com, or your local bookstore.  Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  www.shellyreuben.com.  Link to David M. Kinchen's reviews of her novels "The Skirt Man" and "Tabula Rasa":   http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html

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