As newlyweds, fighting to find respite from the heat on hot summer nights, we dragged our mattress out into the yard and slept there. We had no such luxuries as air conditioning in the house nor a tent and sleeping bags for sleeping outdoors. The luxury we did have was complete privacy. The closest farm neighbor was half a mile away and behind a grove making it unlikely we would offend anyone's sensibilities. Sleeping on the lawn under the stars was fun but came to an abrupt stop two summers later when our first child was born on one of those sweltering nights. She was, of course, born in an air conditioned hospital but once we brought her home, we spent our nights indoors no matter what the thermometer read. We couldn't let her join us on our bed in the wide open spaces. We knew how to swat at hungry bugs but we feared insects would feast, unmolested, on our baby. We settled for sleeping with windows opened wide in the hopes of catching a breeze.
Years went on and we had more children and with them came a menagerie of pets. We still had no air conditioning and all the children slept upstairs except on clear summer nights. It did not have to be sweltering for them to grab their sleeping bags and go out to sleep on the lawn. There was no way I would sleep outside anymore. Their pets took the opportunity to snuggle down on the soft quilted bags alongside their owners. I could never sleep with a dog or a cat but the kids loved it.
One morning one of them woke to find a cat had slept with him but the animal had brought along a gift. She had her catch of the night, a little dead mouse, with her. Mother shuddered, but the kids thought it was funny. One morning they woke to find Happy-Dog had dragged a couple of dead baby pigs up to join the sleeping party. None of them appreciated waking up to the smell of those decaying animals. Even that experience did not discourage them from continuing to abandon their comfortable indoor beds for their penchant to sleep in moonlight.
They tell their own children now that the best part of sleeping outdoors was studying the canopy of stars overhead. We could find the big dipper, the North Star and the blur of stars called the Milky Way. The children claimed they could also find Orion, Leo and Pegasus. They talked about stars with names I can't remember and doubt ever existed. I suspect they made up names believing their mother was very gullible. I had my doubts about the stories they told of sightings but I let them get away with it because their claims were basically harmless.
Our children loved summer visits from their city-dwelling cousins to show off the farm, but those nighttime skies were also a highlight. Presently only three of our seven children live in the country. Those living in cities admit they wish their visits to us would still be on the farm so their children could have some of the experiences they had. But that cannot be so they promise what they can. We heard one of them recently telling his children the next time they visited their grandparents in Iowa he would take them out to the country to see the stars he grew up watching. Many things change but those beautiful sparkling stars overhead have not changed and will always be there for them.