If I’ve crossed your path recently and seemed cross, I can explain. I think you’ll understand.
Since Christmas Day I’ve been sleeping on an ironing board.
It wasn’t too bad the first few nights. In fact, I was quite proud of my ingenuity. But for the past week or more I’ve been getting up stiff as an over-starched dress shirt. The kind that will cut into your neck all day, especially if your neck has “fleshed out” since you bought the shirt.
That term and my current sleeping situation each are linked to my childhood. Oddly, as both can bring discomfort — physical, and emotional (if you suffered the pre-teen trauma of hearing the Parks-Belk saleslady utter the dreaded six-word directive “Let’s head to the husky section”) — they bring back fun, warm, comforting memories.
I sleep, you see, in an heirloom iron bed. It’s one of several Mom and I have. She has the iron bed used for many years by her parents. My sister Pam intends to used it as soon as I locate it and retrieve it from storage. I have another in storage as well. It belonged to my paternal grandparents, who handed it down to my Uncle Ray and his wife, Aunt Imojean, who handed it down to me. The one I’ve been sleeping in the last few years belonged to our beloved late neighbor Nancy Fraysier.
Mrs. Fraysier, as I always called her, and her husband Horton lived a few doors out when Mom and Dad moved to what is now called East Sullivan Court in 1955. Mr. Fraysier died in 1967, Nancy in 1987. She and mother were very close. We were given a first look at her things once they were readied for an estate sale. I asked Mom to buy the bed. We promptly painted it white, with gold highlights, and put it in the guest room.
A few years ago I repainted it (bronze) and moved it into my bedroom. I’d forgotten the biggest drawback to using heirloom beds: making modern box springs and mattresses fit. I’m not sure when enclosed box springs became the norm, but metal springs used to be just that: metal springs. No “box.” And those old springs fit perfectly within the railings of old iron beds. A new full-size box springs and mattress are too long by an inch or two.
Back in 1987 when Mom first set up Mrs. Fraysier’s iron bed in the guest room, Dad crafted a wooden-slat grid, of sorts. Regular wooden slats alone would have provided support had new box springs not been too long, headboard to footboard, by about two inches. That meant regular crosswise slats would bear none of the weight, which would rest on the edge of the narrow iron crossbars of the headboard and footboard. So Dad built the grid to raise the level of the slats to just above the top of the railings.
It’s worked. Although one can sometimes make the mattress and box springs shift precariously left or right. And then, on Christmas Day, as it snowed and all was merry and bright, it didn’t work any more. As I climbed onto the edge of the bed to take a post-dinner nap, I heard a terrible cracking noise and had the sensation I was falling (because I was). The grid Dad built in 1987 suffered catastrophic failure.
I was thankful Rubbermaid is strong stuff, as that brand of tote not only stopped my plummet toward the floor, but held the weight of the box springs, mattress and me (and I’m pretty “fleshed out” these days) to protect its fragile contents: Mom’s “America” pattern Fostoria glassware.
My first thought, before lifting the box springs and mattress up, was, “Oh, I’m going to have to find some new bed slats.” My next thought was “Lowe’s isn’t open on Christmas Day.” I sent my coworker Rick Wagner a text. “Merry Christmas! Do you have some bed slats I could borrow please?” He did not. It didn’t matter because by the time he replied I realized it would take more than one or two normal bed slats.
I went outside, hoping by some Christmas miracle I’d easily find some extra, forgotten, bed slats in the yard barn or garage. The lock to one was frozen shut. I couldn’t find the right key to the other. And then I saw it. An aluminum step ladder. Closed, it looked four to six inches thick. It was long enough to span the space between the two bed rails. I carried it in the house and headed to the bathroom to wipe it down. In the laundry room next door I saw an even better “it.” The ironing board. Closed, it looked about two to three inches thick. Even better, it had rubber stops on its “feet.”
For stability, I wedged one end (the one with the point, just in case you ever need to steal this “life hack”) into one bed railing and rested the other end on the other railing, near the head of the bed. I returned the box springs, and the mattress. I gingerly climbed onto the edge of the bed, then stretched out. “Not bad,” I thought, especially since some say an elevated head-of-the-bed can help with sleep apnea.
It wasn’t bad that first night. Or two, or really even the first week. I looked online and was overwhelmed with all the do-it-yourself answers to building a support system for adapting antique beds for use with modern bedding.
Mom wants all of you to know she can’t believe I’m telling you about the ironing board, and that she’s offered to just have a new bed delivered. But I’m stubborn and sentimental and I’m determined to survive until I have time for a proper fix. It could be worse.
One last thing. That phrase “fleshed out.” I did an online search to see if it was commonly used in the manner I heard it, or more likely “fleshing out,” throughout my childhood. The results mostly were dictionary definitions that had more to do with the term’s use in storytelling: to flesh out a character or plot is to provide more detail.
The older folks in my family, especially, I think, on Mom’s side, would comment someone (especially a woman) was “really fleshing out” or had “fleshed out.” To their generation it was meant as a compliment or at least a positive thing. To flesh out was to gain weight. Gaining weight, in days gone by in a rural, farming community, meant one was prosperous.
But times change and by the 1970s, none of my aunts or cousins had much appreciation for Popie Null’s commentary “You’re fleshing out!” as they entered a room.
I’ve certainly fleshed out. Just ask that bed-slat grid Dad made in 1987.