The Mattress Story

A friend said to me recently that "Any story that can be condensed into a simple description, a one-word description, is something that must be shared."

So here goes--The Mattress Story, feat. Grandmother.

Every year, on the first of May, the town in which I live hosts a city-wide clean-up. Households can throw out what the trash company normally does not accept, such as appliances or furniture.

So, every year, during the last couple days of April, the entire town places aged refrigerators, gaseous microwaves, three-legged coffee tables and the skeletal remains of chairs at the edge of its yards. Thus, every year, the townspeople drive their respective cars up and down each street, slowly, ever so slowly, as to analyze and visually claim someone else's junk.

A worn-in recliner with ripped seams can become the loved, favorite plaid chair in another's living room. A woman and her husband will take chipped bedside tables from one yard, then return to their own home and find that their computer chair--with its missing arm and crooked back--has been reclaimed. Modest individuals will cruise throughout our village, only to return under cover of darkness and awkwardly stuff angular pieces of over-sized household items into their vehicles.

It is true--everyone drives around town; my mother herself has "thrifted" two plant stands, among other minorities (such as a glass-top end table). On the other hand, both my mother and I have stood, incognito, and watched as a young couple took items from our front lawn, an orange recliner included.

Porch swings, metal framing, staircase spindles, leftover slices of laminate countertop, ripped and ragged rugs ... they can all be found on Clean-Up Day. Tried-and-true washing machines, pixel-ized TV screens. Speakers. Kitchen cabinets. Malfunctioning leaf blowers. Mattresses.

Yes, even mattresses.

This is where my short story begins.

This year, on April 30 (the day before Clean-Up Day), my grandmother called my mother. Mom had been busy getting ready for work, and was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when the phone rang.

"Hrrrluh?" she managed through a mouthful of whitening foam.

"Wendy?" Bossy and instructional, my grandmother immediately started in, not bothering to take a breath. "The neighbors down the street put out a mattress and a box spring and I want it. You have to help me."

"Why?" Mom spat into the sink, her toothbrush in one hand, the portable phone in the other. "You don't need mattresses. You already have a bed in your house that you can't use because you have so much crap on it. You don't have room for mattresses."

"I'll put them in the garage."

"Mom! Listen to me!
You don't have room." She enunciated each word. "You know that mice live in the garage. They're just going to bury themselves in the fabric and nest and pee and poop all over it. You don't need a mattress."

"Yes I do." Grandmother became angrily accusatory. "Don't you tell me what I need. I don't tell you what you need."

"Mom, you don't have room. You'll never use them. You don't use the ones you have."

My grandmother quickly grew angrier. Her voice rose, her tone changed. Oblivious to the bulging hoard in her home, she began to swear at my mother. "Well, screw you, then! Forget you! I want those mattresses!" And with a snide "I'll get them; you watch!" she hung up on my mother.

Mom, presumably, shook her head and glared at the phone. Her eyes wide, she took a deep breath to control an outburst. Growling, she finished brushing her teeth and put the phone back on the hook. Fifteen minutes later, she was ready for work. Eighteen minutes later, she was at work.

The day started off normal. Mom took orders. Cooked. Burned herself on the fryer. Swore at hamburger grounds that fell on the floor. However, in the middle of her shift, the phone rang.

"Hello?" she said (this time without a mouth of toothpaste).

"Wendy?" It was her sister, my aunt. "I just got a text from our brother. He wanted to know why our mother was dragging a mattress up the street by herself."

Mom started laughing in disbelief. "Oh my God. She's actually doing it?" She explained the morning's phone call to her sister. "Our mother is crazy. Crazy. I was not going to help her." They joked about the absurdity of a 76-year-old woman dragging a mattress and box spring up the street by herself.

Personally, I picture my frail grandmother walking up the street at an angle, a heavy mattress bent and slugged under her arm. She would huff and puff. Wheeze from her emphysema. Swear at all of her children for refusing to enable her hoarding.

A few days later, my mother was approached by my grandmother, who only had one snarky remark, "Well, I did get those mattresses in the garage."


  1. This is everything I hoped it would be.

    Your grandmother reminds me in some ways of my grandmother. I told Mom on the phone the other day that she should write a book about what it was like growing up with my grandmother. She laughed and said, "You should ask your uncles that sometime - 'What was it like growing up with G.J.?' - and I want to be there when you do." The stories I have heard are just unreal. And she would have pulled something like this.


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