Recently, I was lying awake at night experiencing what I call “night terrors” and hot flashes — yes, I get those at my age even as a male of the species. Many thoughts came to mind. Most of them I forgot by morning, the quote by British statesman Winston Churchill coming to mind: “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

I call these episodes “terrors” because of the pervasive thoughts that won’t leave my head at night, like an ear worm of a song that won’t go away, interrupting my sleep and keeping me awake, sometimes for hours.

While I can fully control neither the hot flashes nor the terrors, I really have no right to have the night terrors, a malady that causes me to lie awake and worry about things, many of which I forget anyway shortly before rolling out of bed in the morning.

Why should I have night terrors? I’m healthy, I’m not furloughed from a job and worried about paying bills, my kids are holding their own, I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and enough to eat. I have love in my life. I have shoes to wear and two feet on which to wear them. What do I have to worry about? There are so many who have far less and a legitimate right to their night terrors.

But I suppose we do have a responsibility to control our thoughts — and should control them, as the Buddha wrote. “What we think, we become. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

Still, it’s harder, for me at least, to control my thoughts when it’s 3 a.m., pitch dark and night’s silence envelops me. There’s no outside stimulation, I suppose, to push the night terrors away. So, they endure.

My waking hours this particular night started with thoughts of my mom and dad, now passed away to the Great Beyond these four years now, their 20-something, youthful faces somehow clearly peeking through my infantile amnesia.

I wondered if they could sense my gratitude for their love, guidance and sacrifices, and

I hoped they’d be proud of the man I have become. I silently spoke to them, hoping but doubting they could hear my thoughts. And then, somehow, my thoughts shifted from my parents to my wife’s maternal grandmother, Mary.

My wife’s maternal grandmother, Mary? Mary, I hardly knew ye. Why would my night terrors include Mary — “Great Gran” to most everyone — a sprite of a lady less than 5 feet tall I met just a few times (including celebrating her 100th birthday with her) before her death?


lived to be 102, the oldest person I have ever known.

Mary was a bit of a gypsy woman, an immigrant from Hungary before World War II. She

read tarot cards, although she never read my fortune from them. I don’t really believe in

fortune telling, but never wanted to take the chance of prophecies I might dislike. Maybe my disbelief has just enough cracks in it that I’m wary of soothsaying.

But regardless of hardly knowing Great Gran and my lack of a foretelling from her, my night terrors included thoughts of Mary, I think, because she had “WooWoo,” the term her grandchildren gave to Great Gran’s future-predicting “powers” and her apparent connection to the spiritual world.

Great Gran’s youngest granddaughter, my wife, did have her fortune read. She remembers Great Gran wailing in tears at something she read in the cards, not a good sign from a soothsayer. But although Great Gran never explained in detail what her wailing was about, my wife’s future turned out to be just about spot-on from Great Gran’s reading of the tarot cards and, more or less, it proved to be a good future. It included the standard assortment of pain and loss and disappointments most all of us experience, mixed in with the mostly good.

So, amid my wandering mind’s inability to sleep, I considered Great Gran’s “WooWoo” at 3 a.m. I wondered if Mary, using her mystical, gypsy powers from the spirit world, might help retransmit a message to my mom and dad:

“Can you hear me, Mom and Dad? Are you OK? Thank you for your love and support.”

My hot flashes nearly gone,

I stuck a foot out from under the covers to finish cooling off, pulled the covers to my chin, and finally drifted off to sleep. A train passing through Southern Pines floated through my dreams, its whistling “Wooo-Wooo” echoing from the distance ... and from Mary’s past.

I rarely remember my dreams when I wake. This time, though, the woo-wooing train whistles I remembered. Were they a dream or real? And my night terror worries? Turns out they weren’t real. Might it have been Great Gran’s WooWoo that eased my fretting? Those night terror worries had melted away like the dark shroud of night does with dawn’s comforting light.

Barry Fetzer is a retired U.S. Marine aviator who lives in Southern Pines. He has written columns previously for The Havelock News.

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