I spent most of the spring of 2015 learning to tell this story. It is definitely a very complicated tale, since the wording and expressions have to be “just right” to make the story come alive. It really is wonderful to tell, though, and I have found that adults really like it, but children tend to be like, “What??”. This is a wonderfully hilarious story, and I have told it quite a few times to older people, and they have really enjoyed it. I would recommend telling this at a venue for mainly adults (e.g. a senior home) rather than for kids. I learned the story word-for-word, but I had to cut out a few parts, in order to make it within the 5-7 minute time range. Telling it exactly as I have cut it here will take about 7/a little more than 7 minutes. Here is The Night the Bed Fell by James Thurber, written exactly as I tell it.
I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth in Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father. Although it is a somewhat incredible tale, it still took place.
It happened, then, that my father had decided to sleep in the attic one night, to be away where he could think. My mother opposed strongly because, she said, the old wooden bed up there was unsafe: it was wobbly and the heavy headboard would crash down, in case the bed fell, and kill my father. There was no dissuading him, however, and at a quarter past ten he closed the attic door and climbed the narrow creaky stairs. We heard ominous creaking when he crawled into bed.
We had visiting us at this time a nervous cousin of mine named Briggs Beall, who believed that he was likely to stop breathing when he was asleep. He thought that if he weren’t awakened every hour in the night, he would die of suffocation. He was accustomed to setting an alarm clock to ring at intervals until morning, but I convinced him to give it up. He slept in my room and I told him that I was such a light sleeper that anyone who slept in the same room with me and stopped breathing would awaken me instantly. He tested me that first night- which I had suspected he would- by holding his breath after my regular breathing had convinced him that I was asleep. I was not, however, and called to him. This seemed to relieve him of his fears a little, but he still took the precaution of putting a glass of spirits of camphor on a little table by his bedside. In case I didn’t rouse him until he was almost gone, he said, he would sniff the camphor, a powerful reviver.
On the night the bed fell on father, we were all in bed by midnight. The layout of the rooms and the disposition of their occupants is important to an understanding of what later occurred. In the front room upstairs (under father’s attic bedroom) were my mother and my brother Herman. Briggs Beall and I were in a room adjoining this one. My brother Roy was in a room across the hall from ours, and our bull terrier, Rex, slept in the hall.
My bed was an army cot, one of those which are made wide enough to sleep on by putting up the two sides that usually hang over the side like the sideboards of a drop leaf table. When these sides are up, it is dangerous to roll too far over toward the edge, for then the cot is likely to tip completely over, bringing the whole bed over upon its occupant. This, in fact, is precisely what happened at about 2 o’clock in the morning.
Always a deep sleeper, slow to arouse (I had lied to Briggs), I was unconscious of what had happened, although it didn’t matter. It left me still warmly bundled up, and unhurt, for the bed rested above me. Hence I did not wake up, I only reached the edge of consciousness and then went back. The racket, however, instantly awakened Mother, in the next room, who came to the immediate conclusion that her worst dread was realized: The big wooden bed upstairs had fallen on father. She screamed, “Let’s go to your poor father!”
It was this shout, rather than the noise of my cot falling, that awakened Herman, in the same room with mother. “You’re all right, Mamma!” he shouted, trying to calm her.
They exchanged shout for shout for some time: “Let’s go to your poor father!”
and “You’re all right!”
That woke up Briggs. By this time I was vaguely conscious of what was going on, but did not yet realize that I was under my bed instead of on it. Briggs, awakening in the midst of loud shouts of fear, came to the quick conclusion that he was suffocating. With a low moan, he grasped the glass of camphor and, instead of sniffing it, poured it all over himself. The whole room reeked of camphor. He leaped out of bed and grouped towards the open window, but he came up against the one that was closed. With his fist, he beat out the glass, and I could hear it crash and tinkle in the alleyway below. Foggy with sleep, I now tried to get up and had the uncanny feeling of feeling my bed above me! I thought that the uproar was an endeavor to extricate me from this unheard-of and perilous situation. “Get me out of this!” I bawled, “Get me out!”.
By this time, mother, pursued by Herman, both shouting, was trying to open the door to the attic, in order to pull my father’s body out of the wreckage. The door was stuck, however, and wouldn’t yield. Her frantic banging on it only added to the din and confusion. Roy and the dog were now up, one shouting questions, the other barking.
Father, farthest away and soundest sleeper of all, had by this time been awakened by the banging on his door. He decided that the house must be on fire. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” he wailed in a sleepy voice. Mother, still believing he was caught under his bed, detected in his “I’m coming!” the note of one about to meet his Maker.
“He’s dying!” she screamed.
“I’m all right!” Briggs yelled He still believed that his own closeness to death was worrying mother.
I joined the others at the attic door. Roy pulled the attic door open with a mighty jerk, and father came down the stairs, sleepy and irritable. “What in the name heaven is going on here?” asked Father.
The situation was put together eventually like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Father caught a cold from prowling around in bare feet but there were no other bad results.